Most people get information about God from sacred writings, like the bible. The bible though is not God’s biography. It is seventy-three (more or less, depending upon religious subgroups) very different ‘books.’ They were written down by various authors, at various times, for hugely varying audiences and purposes. The bible is a library rather than a history book or novel.
Much of the bible was written for one purpose: to keep the faithful from forgetting the faith-stories and songs of their ancestors. These stories and songs were not dictated by God or an angel. And much of them changed in the telling over time. The present bible simply has the latest versions.
The biblical authors often exaggerated or edited events in order to make them more impressive and have more of an impact (think of George Washington and the cherry tree!). They even attributed authorship to major religious figures who long since died, such as Moses or St. Paul, in order to add gravity and authenticity to the text.
More than anything else the bible shows us how early Hebrews and Christians chose to depict God. It highlights the key events where spiritual communities gathered around a common faith. Taken in historical context, most of the bible was not written as literal history. Much of it is metaphor. Ultimately, the authors’ purpose was to invite readers to go beyond the words and discover a deeper theological and spiritual meaning.
So, if you describe God solely through your experience, fine, as long as you don’t lose the true meaning of actions and events in your life. Too much ‘personal faith’ without some objective context and meaningful language can easily devolve into superstition or a series of baseless theories.
If you describe God solely through the bible, fine, as long as you understand the literary, historical, and theological contexts of the time it was written. Too much ‘bible faith’ without context and the present activity of the Source Spirit in our time and place can lead to a narrow sectarianism that pits ‘believers’ against ‘non-believers.’ It can also promote a superstitious and transactional view of religion.
Something you need to be aware of:
- The first stories in the bible were shared mostly in ancient languages, no longer used;
- then they were written in various versions of ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic;
- then they were translated, first into Latin and then into more modern Greek;
- then, even later, they were later translated into modern languages.
- In Hebrew and Greek, one word can have many meanings;
- modern translators have to pick and choose which meaning they think is appropriate for today.
- Finally, the bible ended up on every pulpit as a source of sermons, which pastors have used and misused for centuries, according their personal and theological biases.
Ultimately, it’s your choice. I suggest that you:
- listen to your own intuition and interior spiritual disposition regarding your beliefs about God;
- rely on solid and accurate interpretations of the bible;
- in sermons or in your reading, acknowledge your limited biblical theological understanding, as well as the preacher’s;
- spot check the way the bible is being used and ensure that interpretations are not supporting extreme or biased personal opinions, outlandish theories, or erroneous beliefs.
Wondering where You find God? Let’s discuss it. firstname.lastname@example.org or text me at 813-449-3904 My book can help: Life Interrupted: Taking Charge After Everything Has Changed
©2020 Michael Parise