not believe that the Bible is the literal word of God?
was in a conversation with someone the other day who was brought
up to believe scripture literally. She was a person who had suffered
deeply and experienced much loss. She felt an anger toward God
and questioned why so many bad things had happened to her. “I
thought if you followed God, bad things weren't supposed to happen
to you so much,” she said. “If bad things are going
to happen anyway, what help is it to believe in and follow God?”
was stuck in circular thinking that comes, in part, from reading
passages literally—passages like Deuteronomy 11:13-19 …"If
you will only heed his every commandment... then he will give
the rain..." And if you disobey, "...then the anger
of the Lord will be kindled against you and he will shut up the
heavens, so that there will be no rain... then you will perish
...then. Religion reduced to a transaction. Essentially
it is a self-interested transaction. If I do right by God,
then God will take care of me and prevent drought and other
bad things. But when bad things happen, then it must be somebody's
fault. The nearest place to look for blame is probably the
one who is suffering. Therefore victimize the victim.
good is believing in God?" she asked me, wanting to put
down the anger that is a byproduct of her suffering. We talked.
believe that life with God does go better, truly, than life without
God. But not in the sense that we get a pass on suffering, tragedy
and misfortune. Christians say that when we look at Christ, we
see the face of God. The picture we see declares that God is
with us in suffering, tragedy and misfortune. And it says that
such things will not be the last word. God brings resurrection.
But Jesus did not experience resurrection until he had died.
It is that way for us sometimes as well.
we choose to accept the relationship that God offers us, it can
change our experience of life, including its suffering. And here
is the offer -- God loves us and God is with us. God loves us
unconditionally even before we have responded to God. God is
with us so we can live with a new energy of presence and confidence,
even in the times of suffering. The worst that can happen can
be united with the cross and given meaning and hope, even though
it may not disappear.
in some sense, things do go better when we believe in and follow
God. But "going better" doesn't mean that we won't
experience drought and bad things. And when bad things happen,
it doesn't mean someone has to be blamed, especially not the
one who is suffering. If
the cross can happen to Jesus, then tragedy and injustice can
happen to us as well. Experiencing our lives
through a relationship with Jesus can change its meaning.
what Paul continually talked about—if you are living "in
Christ" you are "a new creation." That involves
dying to an old way of living. The old way includes believing
that we make a project out of our lives—the righteous earning
righteousness, deserving blessing; the sinner earning condemnation
and misfortune. Paul has died to that way of thinking.
he experiences everything "in Christ." God loves us
and God is with us. Therefore, whatever happens is new. When
good things happen, rejoice that God has given us more than we
can deserve. When bad things happen, rejoice that God has let
you share in Christ's sufferings. It is Christ's sufferings which
are healing the world. That is reconciliation, says Paul.
Rev. Lowell Grisham
A word about taking the bible literally,
it is impossible for two reasons. First, the
English translations preachers claim
to be the literal word of God, are not always true to the original
language of the Bible, Hebrew. All translations are really interpretations,
and there are over 400 biblical words known as hapax legomena,
whose English translation we don't know. The English you read is
a best guess. The second reason why biblical literalism is impossible
is because no one takes the entire bible literally. Serpent handling
Pentecostal Christians in Appalachia come closest to following
the words of Jesus literally in Mark 16. Perhaps you are aware
of people who advocate self-mutilation in obedience to Jesus’ words
in Mark 9. I'm not. And if we were to execute children who insult
their parents as is written in Deuteronomy 21, we’d all be
--Rabbi Micah Greenstein
from the sermon "Religion Without
Humor Is Blasphemy"