First, it is a cultural artifact that has had a profound impact on much of human history. Our notions of human rights, democracy, altruism, and equality are inextricably linked with the content of this book. And many of the intellectual, cultural, and political movements of the past and the present have been sparked by its ideas. It is impossible to understand Western culture without learning the truths contained in the Bible.
Second, the Bible contains some of the best literature ever written. Too often, people assume they already know the Bible because they heard the stories of Noah’s ark or Jonah and the whale as a kid, or because they saw a movie about Moses or Jesus on television. But the Bible wasn’t written for kids, and a movie can barely scratch the surface of its depth.
Third, the Bible is a portal, a doorway to God himself. Problems abound when people are dependent on human leaders who claim to speak for God. We need to know God as he is, revealed in his Word. A good book can transport us to another time and place; the Bible leads us to be encountered by the living God, entering into our time and place.
A pastor friend told me when he went off to college one of his religion professors started exposing him to some of the troublesome passages of Scripture, texts like the Canaanite “genocide” (Joshua 10–11), the rape of the Levite’s concubine (Judges 19), and the smiting of Uzzah (2 Samuel 6). Even though his home church was very Bible-focused, he wasn’t familiar with those stories because they were never taught there. At first he was embarrassed that his religion prof knew the Bible better than he did, but then he felt angry—mad that no one had helped him think about how to understand or interpret the problematic parts of the Bible.
My friend’s experience is not unusual. Many Christians ignore troubling texts because they raise hard questions. Why does God want to wipe out the Canaanites? Why does God allow a woman to be raped to death? Why does God kill poor Uzzah who only wanted to prevent the ark from tipping over?
What should we do with our hard questions about the Bible? Here are a few suggestions.
- God’s Word is full of people who ask hard questions: Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Elijah, the psalmist, even Jesus on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Take your questions directly to God in prayer.
- Stop ignoring the problematic texts of the Bible. Paul tells us that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). When we don’t venture out into the uncharted territory of the Bible, we are not profiting as Paul wants us to. Use your hard questions to take you deeper into Scripture.
- Discuss your hard questions with friends. Instead of complaining about superficial relationships, we could talk about why God decided to flood humanity in Genesis 6, why he commanded a rape victim to marry her rapist in Deuteronomy 22, or why so many of Jesus’ ancestors had sexual issues (Abraham, Tamar, Rahab, and David).
David T. Lamb is the author of Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style and God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?
Consider any major adventure movie and it becomes clear that epic journeys are undertaken with companions. Sometimes those companions are chosen and already known from the beginning. Sometimes the journey throws unlikely people together along the way.
Exploring the Bible in the company of friends (or even strangers) is essential for delving into its depths and ascending its heights. It can also be a lot of fun if you agree on some basic ground rules.
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