The question caught me by surprise. It’s not that I hadn’t thought that people would have this question. It’s just that after more than 30 years in ministry, no one had ever asked me this question. It was simple, straight-forward, and a bit unnerving. The question: why should I care what the Bible has to say about anything?
Let’s be honest: there’s no a simple answer to that question. On the one hand, if you’re Hindu, or Buddhist, or agnostic, or simply not a Christian, why should you care what the Bible has to say about anything? From that perspective, there really isn’t a good reason.
On the other hand, if you live in any Western country or culture, the stories of the Judeo-Christian scriptures are woven tightly into the culture through music, art, customs, and myth. How do you understand Western culture and values without knowing something about the Bible since so many aspects of our culture and customs are rooted in its stories?
Then again, as we debate political issues in this country, I have to wonder why some people insist on imposing their interpretation of the Bible onto the political process? In that context, many of us may ask, “Why should we care what the Bible has to say about the politics of the United States? Isn’t the proper reference point for politics in the United States the Constitution?”
The question was posed to me by someone who considers herself to be a Christian, who attends church with some frequency, and who values spiritual practices. She’s very much like many people I know. Being a bright, educated person, she is familiar with a variety of spiritual writings and traditions and is often inspired by them. Given that she’s able to find inspiration from many sources, and given the way the Bible is often used to support hatred, bigotry, and violence, why should she care about what the Bible has to say?
As I consider why the Bible is important, I also remember that many people, including devout Christians, know very little about the Bible. When people begin to learn about the history of the Bible and how the original writings came together to form the text we have today, it’s often an eye-opening experience. It’s often the first time people realize that the Bible is full of contradictions. For example, there are two very different stories of creation in Genesis, two stories about the birthday of Jesus that bear no resemblance to each other, and four different sets of events told about the resurrection of Jesus. There are amazing incongruities about historical events, the relationships among people, and, well, in many cases, the facts just don’t add up. So, the reader is left with decisions to make: do I chuck it all as nonsense? Do I attempt to make these contradictory stories fit together for the sake of some notion of biblical inspiration? Or do I consider that the Bible may be a very different sort of book than what I’m used to reading? In coming to a decision about how to understand the Bible, it’s important to remember that accuracy in journalism is a modern phenomenon that we’ve learned to value. Our contemporary cultural value for accuracy in journalism can’t be imposed on other, older cultures that valued communicating life-lessons and editing the facts to fit the lesson. From this perspective, the authors of the Bible intended to communicate something about how to live in a way that reflected certain values and beliefs. My conclusion is that I can’t reconcile what’s clearly contradictory but that there must be something here that’s inspired and continues to inspire people over the millennia. That’s what draws me to the text.
I’m not able to tell anyone why they should care about what the Bible says. But I can answer a different question: why do I care what the Bible has to say? It’s not because the Bible is a magic book written precisely at my level of comprehension or because there’s a secret code in the Bible that will give me the winning number for the lottery. I care about the Bible because it encapsulates the wisdom of how people came to understand and live with faith and hope in all of life’s complex moments. The stories of the Bible have been told and retold over millennia and have inspired others through the midst of very unlikely circumstances. They continue to inspire us even today.
I hear the stories of the Bible not as one who insists that my understanding is the only correct one to have. Instead, I relish the stories of the Bible as one who affirms that the Creator of All is still speaking, through the stories of the Bible, as we gather with others to share our spiritual journeys, and through every moment of our lives. It’s my hope that we, like David, can look for and grasp life’s goodness in each moment – because despite what may seem like life’s ambiguity, goodness and grace can always be found.
As to the woman who asked me the original question, my response was to ask her about the ways the stories of the Bible have had a positive impact on her life. She was able to recount various themes about a loving God, forgiveness of those who injure us, and caring for those in need. Thinking about those things, she was able to answer her own question.For further reading about the Bible and it’s origins, consider: The Bible: A Biography, Karen Armstrong. (2008) Grove Press. ISBN-13: 978-0802143846 Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them), Bart Ehrman. (2010). HarperOne. ISBN-13: 978-0061173943
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.