What do we do when respecting the Bible story as it is, means disrespecting the God who is? Tricky concept there. Scripture is, after all, one of the primary means (if not the primary means) by which we know God—not to mention that whole transcendant, beyond knowing dimension to God.
And yet it is precisely in coming to know Scripture, and coming to know the God of our Scriptures, that questions arise about some of the stories about this God in Scripture.
For if, as we believe, Jesus is the fullest expression of God—in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19), then God is made incarnate in love—in grace and truth—made manifest in a profound passion for justice—in deep commitment to the least of these—in complete dedication to non-violent transformation, ever respectful of free will—in utter devotion to conversation and relationship with Other in respect and appreciation.
If, as we believe, God and Jesus are one, then when we read certain Bible stories—certain details in Bible stories, we have to wonder; we have to question: who is this God who manipulates circumstance to engender belief (Exodus 14:4) Who is this God who kills (Exodus 14:27)? Who is this God who doesn’t just condone but orders mass murder (1 Samuel 15:3)? Who is this God we can’t imagine being made incarnate in Jesus Christ? And how can we possibly not wrestle with such portrayals of God?
Some suggest we should leave it at that—leave it at wondering and raising questions—wrestling—respecting the mystery—conceding the unknowable—that which is and needs to remain always beyond us—not presuming to know more than we can.
I respect that.
And it is certainly always wise (necessary) to confess the presumption of rejecting Scripture, but even acknowledging Scripture as inspired by God, we need to affirm with Scripture, as with Jesus, the challenge of always honoring what the human dimension brings to the conversation. Isn’t the lesson of Scripture, sometimes—the teaching of God’s Word, sometimes, the reminder that human beings, sometimes, attribute words to God? have God say what they want God to say in order to give divine vindication to what they have done—to claim divine justification for what they want to do? Don’t we do that?
Scripture exhorts us to test the spirits (1 John 4:1) … what about the spirit of a Bible story?
And so, while respecting the mystery—while recognizing the risk—while affirming that the Bible is and always has been less a coherent, comprehensive defining of God than a collection of often competing notions of God (and while respecting and appreciating that), there are, nonetheless, details I feel the need to reject. Given our culture of violence—given all who justify violence in the name of God, there are details in Scripture I feel the need to respectfully reject.
I feel the need to affirm there are Bible stories we cannot accept as written, because to respect the stories as they are, is to disrespect God as we know God.
My priority—my calling—is to respect the God beyond the stories of God—indicated within and through them all (collectively), but never defined by them—the God always bigger and more than any attempt to understand or describe, but … but, I believe, ever consistent with as much of God as we can strive to know in Jesus.
And, as I frequently say to myself, I’d rather be wrong this way than any other! If, as indeed I may, I err, I choose to err on the side of grace … always on the side of grace.