Monday, July 11, 2011

An Infallible Book Necessary For Faith?

Not all believers have an infallible book. Growing up I trusted the Bible's total accuracy for my Christian faith.  This seems, on the surface, necessary for in this Book we have most of  the ancient words about Christ. These ‘words’ may seem the only ‘proof' of faith in Christ. Until 100 years ago most Christians, for the preceding several centuries,  believed in the inerancy of the Bible; that the very words  were miraculously placed exactly as God chose them to be. So the Bible was interpreted literally and taken at face value. Learning about the Bible and reading the work of responsible scholars of Bible, language, history and science, I realized the Bible could no longer conscientiously be an object of faith for me. It had become a proper object of human inquiry. We can know much about the actual nature of the writings. It would be spiritually lazy of me  to cling to it as an object of faith. It became increasingly obvious to me it was not inerrant at all, that it had human authors who, though sincere, wrote with the same limitations and sense of choice as any author. They had views of nature and the world we know now were temporarily ‘true’ and would have to change with advancing  knowledge. This kind of  awareness can help us better discover what is truly timeless within its literal words.
We were taught that 'Word Of God' Is Primarily A Book.

We are responsible, as present believers, for incorporating new verified information into our beliefs about the Bible. The most powerful  description given by people to  the Bible is ‘The Word Of God’. Many are not aware that when the Bible  uses the expression ‘Word of God’ it does not refer to itself but to a living spiritual reality beyond all written words. ‘Word of God’ in  scripture  is described as a living and present spiritual  power, not a static and completed book or as scripture alone. A literally interpreted Bible is far less than the living Word of God, though the Bible is a spiritual treasure.

Faith in Christ can  be affirmed  without  infallible scripture. Ancient documents about Christ are appropriately viewed as important tools to support and inform faith in Christ. * Scriptures are profound attempts by ancient communities to describe the indescribable impact of the life of Christ(or his forbears in the Hebrew Bible) on those who lived in his presence. The Christ experience today can potentially be just as present and real in ways appropriate for us.

Faith in a literalized Bible isn't harmless to the Christian faith and well being of society. It gives inflexible viewpoints for what should  instead be a living Christ experience. It asks faith seekers to trust in what is unbelievable and in direct conflict with  God given reason, rather than in the genuine object of faith which for Christians  is only Christ. It has been used as a self serving tool to impose specific religious views onto others in our American democracy. For example Christians who desire the ten commandments,only three  of which are American law,  to be displayed in court houses ignore that these were the heritage of  Hebrew people and are not described as universally applied even in the Bible. For example God is depicted as condoning the Hebrews' plundering the Egyptians of their precious metals and of Moses' lying to Pharaoh about his intent to return after worshiping. Immediately following the ten commandments scripture depicts God saying that if a man  beats his male or female slave but the slave walks within two days that the man is to be treated as innocent(Exodus 21:20). Scripture says that God told Hebrew men to overrun  native people, take their land, and kill all the men, boys and non virgin females; then to use any female virgins as male  property  (Numbers 31:17-19). Such immoralities are common in scripture and presented as God's will. Does any person today accept such a view of God or Christ?  Thankfully, most of us have learned to say 'No' to many of the literal  Bible statements and to parts of its stories. Many statements in the Bible about God were the writer's and his community's  experience of  God and  of  the 'Word of God.'  for them.  But are now  correctly understood  to not be the eternal Word of the ultimate God. Yet this is the nature and complexity of scripture.

Literalizing scripture, claiming inerancy and condoning  violence in the Bible stories undermines the genuine value of the Bible as a spiritual resource. A literal acceptance of Bible statements  is presently contributing to a declined appreciation of science even  in our government. When God places a powerful tool, like science, into human hands surely we must responsibly use it to benefit humankind. Scientific information  not taken seriously by political leaders, weak minded in part by  literalized Bible belief, is resulting in irresponsibility for such things as preparations and preventative measures for natural disasters.

Gospel tradition has Jesus describe the Living Spirit of God as 'wind' that comes and goes as it chooses.  Scripture  describes God as the essence of all Being. God  is ‘I Am’ which also can mean, ‘I Will Be Whom I Will Be’.  These descriptions remain to this day  the living nature of  God even according to scripture. Anytime humans try to capture God permanently in  literal written words and concrete statements, they tend to make and keep a  god in their own image.  This does not lead to the God or Christ of genuine faith, which lie behind and beyond literalized scripture. But to a  kind of idolatry, of which we are all most susceptible.  Jim

*The reader may also be interested in these blog posts.                        

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