Some of you have noticed that I don’t used a whole lot of Scripture on this blog. At least not for now. I didn’t choose the moniker of “reluctant mystic” for no reason after all. A major reluctance is… the Bible.
While I read many blog posts of folks diving into various books of the Bible for comfort, direction, nourishment and wisdom, I have found that I’ve needed to back away from it. It’s full of scandal, after all; and while no one enjoys a good narrative rife with conflict more than I, it’s the scandal of bible beatings I’ve needed to heal from.
Perhaps you can relate.
Perhaps you’ve gone through trying times, and the first thing a friend or a pastor or a neighbour does is pull out some tried and true Bible verses.
“I know the plans I have for you…”
“Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink…”
“Give thanks for everything…”
“Cast all your cares upon God…”
“…sharper than a two-edged sword…”
Perhaps you’ve gone through times of questioning, and the first thing fellow church-goers do is make sure you’ve got things doctrinally straight:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
“Don’t be hot or cold…”
“Be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”
Words like “evildoers” and “heretics” and “apostates” might be thrown around, just for funzies. Sometimes I think that the churchier our language sounds, we believe the hearer will magically get to the bible-point faster.
I may have mentioned this before, but when I was attending North American Baptist College, one of the first things my counselling professor taught us was that he put away his bible during sessions.
From where I stand in life right now, that not only makes huge amounts of sense but it also shows a great amount of compassion. From the perspective of a zealous bible college student, I was pretty sure my prof had one foot in the fire. But I persevered through his course and came out relatively unburned.
You see, he had already lived a life of people thumping verses at one another to make anxiety disappear; to prove a theological point; to cast a vendetta; or to just blab words. He had seen enough of the bible being used as a weapon and the deep damage those wounds caused to know that “the Word” was not the Bible.
The “Word” was and is Jesus Christ.
He gave an example of a fictitious counselling client who walked into his office one day and shed a great amount of tears because his child had died. In an attempt to show empathy as a good Christian would, my professor gave this man the bible to read. It would help… it would transform his grief… it would renew his mind… it was powerful.
But the man read the story of Judas and how he committed suicide.
The next words he read were of Christ who spoke “Go and do likewise.”
Thus the man, believing that his counsellor wanted him to listen to what Scripture was telling him to do, got up and killed himself. His fragile state refuse to allow him space to interpret separate narratives. It was all one big message to him.
I’m not in a space where opening the bible and delving into it is doing me much good. And in some spaces, confessing that truth has not been positive. Good Christians turn to the bible; good Christians memorize the bible; good Christians are transformed by the bible. Choosing to abstain from the bible is as good as saying “I’m a flaming atheist going down in a blaze of glory!”
The guilt can be astronomical.
Even years after leaving such spaces, it’s hard to heal from damaging wounds. Familiar voices repeat the familiar verses, and I feel that familiar pressure to turn to sola scriptura and solve all of my woes. And when meme after meme scrolls through social media showing ecstatic people raising their hands outdoors shouting “The heavens declare the glory of God…!” (while comments say “Thanks! That’s just what I needed today!”, “Amen! Preach the truth!”, or “This is the cure…”)
I’m coming to learn that the bible isn’t a cure.
The bible isn’t a potion or an antibiotic. A balm, perhaps, but not a cure.
Allow me a specific example:
How often have we heard Jesus’ words: “Do not worry…”, and the resulting sermon is about how we’re disobedient towards God when we do worry. I mean, Jesus wouldn’t waste his breath after all, right? He said it for a reason, right? Jesus always means what he says, right?
As someone who struggles with anxiety, this verse always had the potential to make Jesus out like a heavenly jerk. Perfect dude who was never afraid, never freaked out, never had a meltdown, and was always, always, ALWAYS in control of his emotions.
He wasn’t always in control. Jesus was often emotional.
Worry and anxiety never once plagued him?
What if… just what if… Jesus said not to worry because he wasn’t talking to a group of fearful cloistered shut-ins who had no idea of what the real world was like. He was speaking to his country-folk who had had relatives crucified, who lived in starvation, who were under the thumb of Rome, who often didn’t know where their next meal was coming from or if the drinking water was clean, and who saw death day in and day out.
He was speaking to people who knew fear and grief.
What good would it have done Jesus to brow-beat an already beaten people? What love could he have hoped to share by judging their anxiety as sinful, instead of simply accepting their reality of fear?
Perhaps “don’t worry” isn’t a missive to obedience, but a gentle hand on the shoulder of a sobbing people who can’t see a way out of the legitimate fear all around them. Perhaps “don’t worry” is code for “I’m here.” Full stop. Perhaps “don’t worry” is God’s way of saying “I’m trustworthy.”
Not “trust me”, since the people hadn’t learned to trust Jesus-as-God (yet). He knew they were too fragile and confused for that. Perhaps his wisdom spoke within his words and, instead of demanding their trust, he simply presented himself as trustworthy.
There’s an ocean of difference here.
There are great ways to do sound exegesis and hermeneutics. There are also not-so-great-ways to do both of these things. And let me tell you, every theologian prooftexts. That is, we all find other verses in the bible to support our stands. All of us. Every single one. Some of us pronounce that our interpretations are more biblically grounded than others, while at the same time hurting people’s ears with all their trumpeting.
It’s here I’m the most reluctant. Proof-texting drives me nuts. I read through old bible college papers and wince. A lot.
If the crux of my faith is truly not the bible, but Christ; if the Life of my life is the Spirit — a current and real presence affecting my existence, then I need to loosen my grip on the bible as I’ve known it.
How will it end up?
I can’t say.
But I know our traditions don’t declare “Father, Son and Holy Book”. Yet sometimes we live as if the bible is the third aspect of the Trinity. I can’t do that anymore. It’s an oppressive life that excludes more people than it includes; hates more people than it loves; and justifies more useless doctrine than it actually talks about.
So yes. I’m reluctant to use Scripture.
I don’t want to post happy-clappy memes sporting hipsters and cool fonts, quoting the Psalms or Isaiah or Revelation or even Jesus.
I need a break from the bible.
I need a break from the people who have used the bible to damn others.
I need a break from people who hand the bible to me as a fix-it for my hurts.
And it’s 100% okay.
In fact it’s healthy.
So, reader, if you’re in a similar position, be assured that you aren’t condemned for letting your bible collect a dust bunny or two on your night table. If you find you can’t open it up for whatever reason, it’s okay to turn off the talking heads who warn you of becoming lukewarm. If you panic at the thought of trying to read the right verses to believe the right things so you can be the right person, and simply cannot live like that anymore: GOOD.
Put it down.
Put it away.
The bible isn’t the only way God speaks to us.
Rest assured that communication with God won’t be cut off.
You aren’t cut off.
Now that the book is on the shelf for a bit (a little bit or a big bit), go outside and take a long deep breath.
A from-the-gut, hold-it-’til-you-can’t-stand-it breath.
No. Not a cure-all.
One small way to start clearing some cobwebs.