Tuesday, June 25 2019 by Matt Horan
There are many people, both in the United States and around the world, who assert beyond the shadow of a doubt that every word of the Bible is the inerrant, literal truth. They might further assert that any true Christian should agree with them. If the Bible says Creation happened in six days, then Creation happened in six days. If the Bible says that Jonah was really swallowed by a whale, then Jonah was really swallowed by a whale.
Across the globe, adherents to Christianity hold this conviction to varying degrees. Some would say that there are errors in it. Some would claim that some of it is literal, some metaphor, and some hyperbole. Across the globe and across the centuries, people have passionately argued for their view, and passionately accused others of heresy. As the debates have worn on, more and more people have found it increasingly difficult to figure out who to listen to and what to believe. Ultimately, more and more have found the easiest course of action is to simply ignore the whole thing.
What should you do with the Creation story when there’s good reasons to believe in evolution? What are we to think when some think the earth is just a few thousand years old, while others claim it’s been here for billions of years? What are we to think about a boat carrying two of every animal on earth, Moses parting the Red Sea, or Jonah and that whale?
Well, there’s no definitive evidence that Creation happened in six days. There’s also no definitive evidence that make evolution the law of the land either. Same thing with Noah’s Ark, or the Tower of Babel. There’s no way to prove it happened, and no way to prove it didn’t. So, you can stop trying to decide, because you can’t. Remove that from your to-do list.
The Bible was not written to teach us science or history. In fact, it wasn’t written to us at all. Its ancient writers did not think at all about people reading these stories or letters in 2018. It was written to shape the character of specific people at a specific time in a specific place. When we read the Bible today, we should ask key questions: Who wrote this? To whom? When? Why? Once we’ve worked to answer those questions, we can begin to see the effect it was intended to have when it was written in the first place. And once we know that, we can begin to discern how it might serve to shape us today more and more into the loving, merciful, just, and graceful image of God.
Take Noah’s Ark for example. It is a favorite theme for baby nurseries all across the nation–a boat, a smiling old man and his wife, a rainbow, and many cute animals. There’s even a play set by Fisher-Price in their “Little People” collection. Left out of the Little People version, as well as every baby nursery I’ve ever seen, however, is all of the horrified drowning people. This flood wiped out everybody, but we seem to like to leave that out.
Did that really happen? Did two of every animal in the world fit on one boat? I don’t know–I wasn’t there. You weren’t there either. There isn’t anybody around today that was there for that flood, so there’s no way to know for sure how it happened.
Instead, consider this: Moses wrote this down for the Israelites as they were heading to the Promised Land to start a new nation–one that was to be like a shining city on a hill; an example to all other nations of the glory and character of God. Moses was taking this nomadic mob of former slaves and trying to shape them into a nation that would endure. When they heard it, they would not have heard someone trying to preserve ancient history. They would have heard a stark reminder that sin has consequences. You think it doesn’t matter when you choose to be selfish? You think it’s okay as long as no one noticed? Wrong–it matters if you sin. So don’t. You’re trying to build a new world for your people, but sin will destroy it. It matters if you sin.
Sometimes there are stories that had purpose to those who first received it, but aren’t really so relevant anymore. For example, the story of Jacob and Esau gave an explanation to the people of Israel as to where the Edomites came from, and why they were such heated rivals. Today we’d be hard pressed to find many Edomites around, so this story might be harder to apply, which is okay. There are plenty that can still be applied just fine.
It can be interesting to ask questions like, “Did it really happen this way?” However, the Bible is not true because it has accurate depictions of historic events or precise explanation of scientific facts. The Bible is true because its stories keep on showing up in our own, and time and time again, they show us something that ends up being true–not in ancient history, but unfolding right before our eyes!
Who among us hasn’t learned the hard way that it’s better to show someone kindness the first time, rather than to realize we were wrong and have to drag ourselves back to apologize and do it differently the next time? Looks like there’s a lot of truth to that Jonah and the whale story after all.
Who among us hasn’t at some point had to dig down deep and trust that we could overcome a seemingly insurmountable obstacle? Apparently there’s a lot of truth to that David and Goliath story after all.
Who among us hasn’t at some point given in to some kind of temptation, only to realize right away that we’d made the wrong choice? Seems there’s a lot of truth in Adam and Eve’s forbidden fruit story after all.
Did the stories in the Bible happen just as they’re written? Maybe, or maybe not. Their power to change our world, however, is not in their science or history. The power of a Biblical story emerges when they’re shared as a part of our story–how we learned hard lessons by ignoring them, or witnessed their stunning impact by heeding them.
The Bible is full of truth that can help us all to be more like Jesus, and being like him can save us from all manner of patterns destructive both to us and to those around us. It wasn’t written to teach people science or history. It was written to teach people how to restore the world, filling it with love, grace, peace, justice, selflessness, and kindness for all. If you ever see it causing something other than that–somebody’s not reading it right.Print This Post