One of the projects I’ve undertaken this year is to read the Bible from cover to cover. It’s an amazing book, but also a complicated and difficult one. The scriptures weave a story that happens in the midst of regular life lived by real people right here on earth. Its narrative contains the same sort of things we experience in today’s living. The characters are flawed and human, just like you and me. Life happens in the midst of war and our inhumanity to one another and creation. It’s not always a pretty story. In fact, many things recorded there are downright horrible. Some passages and stories make God look awfully bad. They tell us God ordered the Israelites to go into villages and kill every man, woman, and child. Other verses speak of a vengeful God doing horrible things to people who break the rules. I personally cannot accept such passages as consistent with the life and teachings of Christ, the one who represents God to my faith tradition. Prayerful listening has brought me to this conclusion. We need to read scripture in light of an interpretive principle that’s found in the sacred book itself. For me that principle is; “God is love.” (I John 4:16) There are numbers of other passages that say the same thing. The gospels tell us this truth was lived and revealed in human flesh through the life of Christ. It’s meant to be lived through us as well. We need to move past literalism and become spiritually open to the God of faithfulness and love. This God is always behind the scenes in scripture. Locating ourselves in the story and seeing it played out in our inner lives, and life together, can help us experience this good God alive in the midst of our own personal and social chaos. Such spirituality is real, human, and earthy. God is in the midst of everything, even when being blamed for bad stuff or claimed as the “hero in chief” who supports “us” against “them.” If we can read scripture as both our own personal and social stories, this God of love will percolate up and out of the words into our reality. That’s when a new awareness happens, and we know this God lives in our midst. Resisting rigid literalism and shallow theology is the key. Learning to prayerfully listen to the sacred text opens us to hear God saying, in the midst of it all, “I love you.” This is the ultimate message of God hidden in scripture. We discover it right in the middle of the “good, bad, and ugly” of real life. Watch for that truth and it’ll reveal itself in life today. Listen for it in prayer and God becomes a personal experience. Live this message toward others and our lives will change. It may help them too. Advocate this reality for the life of the world and there’s no telling what might happen. The God of love is right here in the middle of it all. So saith the scriptures. That’s comforting news.
The Bible says some things about God that seem contradictory. If we listen to it’s story spiritually and prayerfully, the God who is love shows up.