The Bible:  The Word of God?  No.

“The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it!”  That sounds like something from a bumper sticker. It’s a claim I find to be shocking whenever an Evangelical or Fundamentalist Christian makes. it.  The statement reflects a belief that the Bible is the Word of God:  words spoken by God to human beings who recorded them.  Adherents to this view believe that the Bible is literally correct as stated in the English translation.

If you’ve attended Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Anglican, or Lutheran churches, you wouldn’t have heard this kind of claim, but you would have seen the Bible (or the Gospels) carried in procession and venerated.  After reading a portion, a proclamation was likely made: “The Word of the Lord!”  The proclamation infers that the Bible is the Word of God — that is God’s message to humanity for all time.

The claim that the Bible is the Word of God seems logical.  The Bible is a book.  (Really, it’s a collection of books.)  It has words.  Christians believe it’s an inspired book. Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God.  Here’s the ironic thing about it.  The Bible does refer to the “Word of God” but it’s not speaking about the book.  Instead, the phrase “Word of God” refers to Jesus as the Christ.

Let me cut to the chase:  the Bible is not the Word of God.  The New Testament infers that Christ is the Word of God.  This distinction has significant implications.

Here’s what the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1 to 4 states:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.”

The gospel attributed to John was written in Greek.  What we translate into English as “word” is “logos” in Greek.  Logos is a term used in other Greek writings, particularly in philosophy.  Logos is the principle that governs the development of the universe.  There’s no one term in English to capture it.  It’s translated as word, plan, or reason.  Greek translations of the Hebrew Scriptures use “logos” to translate the Hebrew term “dabar.” “Dabar” is sometimes translated as “word” in English, but in Jewish writings, it refers to the Divine word that is a creative force.  Remember one of the stories of creation in Genesis:  God speaks and things are created.  That’s “dabar.” It’s not a word on a page, but it’s an active force of creation.  Again, English has no equivalent concept for dabar or logos.

The New Testament equates Jesus as the Divine force of creation, the active word of God that holds the universe together.  This active word brings life here and now for all people.

The Bible is not the Word of God.  Instead, the Bible is a collection of writings from a couple of millennia that recounts how people have come to understand the Divine working in their lives.  The Bible is a sacred story about dabar, about logos. But the Bible is not the creative force that governs the development of the universe.  The Bible may be inspired and inspiring.  But it wasn’t dictated by God and it’s full of very obvious contradictions.

Why are there contradictions in the Bible?  There are many reasons for specific contradictions.  In brief, the Bible is about people attempting to understand something much greater than us all.  Understanding something beyond us can be ambiguous and contradictory.  It’s exactly these ambiguities that make the Bible engaging and relevant because life is confusing for all of us.

The Bible:  it’s a rich text that’s gathered literature from people who lived over many centuries and in a variety of cultures.  As a whole, it is a story….a sacred one that continues to inspire.  That’s a beautiful thing.  But it’s not the Word of God.

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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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The Bible and Living Well: It’s not Complicated

One of my favorite stories which has been told for generations by preachers is about a person who hoped to find the answer to a pressing question by looking in the Bible.  After prayerful consideration of the problem, this person was inspired to open the Bible to a random page, believing the answer would be found in the first place looked.  Opening the Bible, twirling a finger in the air and landing it on a page, this person found that the answer to the problem was Matthew 27:5: “Judas went out and hung himself.”  Perplexed, the person decided to try it again.  As luck would have it, this finger plop method of investigation led to Luke 10:37:  “Therefore go and do that same.”  Yikes! Clearly, this was not the answer the person hoped to find.

Yes, people often struggle with making decisions, wondering what to do.  Some seek answers to their day to day challenges by attempting to derive answers from a sacred text.  While the Bible does provide clear advice on how to live our lives, it doesn’t provide us with answers on which job to take, who to marry, or predictions of the winning numbers for the lottery.  But the Bible has lots of wisdom to share about living and finding happiness.

As a follower of the teachings of Jesus, I pay close attention to the clear things that Jesus is recorded to have said.  I do my best to make them part of my life.  That doesn’t mean that I always succeed.  But it does mean that the teachings of Jesus articulate how I hope to live.

Remember what Jesus said about how to approach our lives? “Consider the lilies of the field.  They don’t work or make clothes.  Yet not even Solomon wore as fine clothing as the lilies.”  “Who among you can add to their lifespan by worrying?”  “Do not be afraid.”  Yes, these simple sayings from Matthew’s gospel are very clear.  Yet we often don’t realize that they are central to the teachings of Jesus. We fail to notice the centrality of these teachings of Jesus because we’re generally caught up with worries about what to do, fears of what might happen, or try to make ourselves look better, more competent, or more self-assured.  Instead, the practical teaching of Jesus is to let go of fears and self-preoccupations and to live fully in the present moment, just as the birds that fly freely through the air. The teachings of Jesus lead us to live in a way that’s trustful, centered in the present moment, and with detachment toward the things that are ephemeral.

We also forget that morality and ethics are pretty simple matters in the teachings of Jesus.  “Love one another.”  “Give and it shall be given to you: pressed down, shaken together, running out all over you.”  “The measure you measure with will be measured back to you.”  In other words, as a follower of Jesus, all of our interactions with others should be directed by love for them.  Yes, it’s simplistic, but it’s very real.  No judgment, just acceptance.  Treat others with dignity and in ways that exemplify kindness and compassion.  That’s the foundation for Christian morality.

Jesus was also very patient with people and met them where they were.  He was known to spend time with those considered social outcasts, foreigners and racial minorities (the Samaritans), and responded to the needs presented to him by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, and offering comfort to those in grief.  He is recorded as showing anger to only one group:  religious leaders who took advantage of others.  He called them blind guides and compared them to a pit of snakes. He had no tolerance for oppression and called out the oppressors — particularly the ones who used religion for their own gain or the control of others.

The teachings of Jesus are clear and practical.  There’s little mystery to them.  They are focused on living life in a good way, caring for others, and standing against injustice.  As for what job to take, who to marry, or what lottery numbers to select….well, those choices are yours.  But it seems to me that in the day to day decisions a follower of Jesus would ask questions like:  is my choice in this matter demonstrating trust in God’s goodness in my life?  Does this decision demonstrate love and compassion toward others?  Does the way I live oppress others or lead to equality among all people?  Ultimately, there are no quick easy answers for the follower of Jesus.  Perhaps that’s why some people think that plopping a finger on a random page of the Bible is an attractive solution to life’s challenges. By treating the Bible as a magic book, they don’t have to take the actual teachings of Jesus to heart.

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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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Hurricanes, Fires, and Floods: Where is God?

Throughout the world at any given time, a natural disaster may occur.  Earthquakes, typhoons, wiwildfires, volcanic eruptions, tornados, hurricanes, floods, drought….the list is overwhelming.  When natural disasters occur, when people’s lives are overturned, when there is a loss of life and destruction of property, people often ask questions like why did this happen to me?  Why did God allow this to occur?  Why did God do this?

I lived for a time in South Florida.  During my first year there, in 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck.  It was devastating.  While I did not experience the brunt of it, there was damage in my area and loss of power for days.  At a special service held at my local church meant to be a source of comfort and inspiration following the hurricane, my good friend and colleague, the Rev. Grant Lynn Ford, reflected on God’s role in Hurricane Andrew:  “Living in South Florida means that we live in hurricane alley.  It’s not that God did this to us.  Instead, we chose to live in a place where hurricanes are likely to occur.”  Grant was right.  The disaster wasn’t about God sending a storm into our lives.  Instead, we lived in a place where storms occurred.  By making South Florida our home, we would likely be impacted by a hurricane.

While certain types of preachers claim that the sins of some group caused God to send a natural disaster, such preachers promulgate a theology that is morally bankrupt.  A deity who causes natural disasters is nothing less than capricious and sadistic.  Beliefs in this kind of deity reflect an understanding of the forces of nature prevalent in the Iron Age when people had no idea what caused storms or earthquakes.  Belief in a capricious deity is fundamentally contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew conveys Jesus understanding of God’s role in natural events:  “God made the sun to shine on the evil and the good and rain to fall on the just and unjust alike” (Matthew 5:45).  Disastrous events don’t happen because people sin; they happen because they happen because they are part of nature’s cycles.

Further, in reading the teachings of Jesus, I find that the belief in a deity who is beyond us and controls and manipulates events is untenable. The teachings of Jesus are very clear.  Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus is portrayed as saying that the realm of God is here and now (Matthew 4:17) and that the realm of God is within each of us (Luke 17:20).  As George Fox, the founders of the Quakers stated: “There is that which is of God in everyone.”

Natural disasters occur.  They are as certain on our planet as the rising and the setting of the sun.  Recognizing this, rather than asking questions about a deity’s motivation for disastrous events, I believe we need to consider how the Divine, whose presence is within each of us, responds when disaster strikes.  The presence of God in the world is not disembodied.  Instead, the Divine Presence in the world is manifested through us.  When we respond with care and compassion, God is responding with care and compassion.  When we act on the science that clearly demonstrates that climate change correlates with more intense natural disasters, then God is caring for the planet.  When we work to assure that needed relief is provided to people whom we will never know, whose lives and cultures are far different from our own, then God is providing relief to them.

As a follower of the teachings of Jesus, I fully believe that when a cup of cold water is offered, then God is present (Matthew 10:42). When we stand against profiteers who deny climate change and, in turn, harm the planet and all life on it, God is present (Matthew 21:12-17).  When we seek to create right-relationships with people, to respond with compassion to others, to live in a way that recognizes our own limitations (Micah 6:8), then God’s realm is made known in the world.

God does not cause natural disasters.  Yet, God is present in the midst of suffering, binding up wounds and providing a way forward when we respond and make the realm of God a reality in the world.


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© 2017, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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