The Real Bible Code

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At the end of every semester, after spending about three months working through the Old Testament with a group of community college students, mostly believers, I spend our final two classes talking about how Paul, a trained theologian and Christ follower, could call such a diverse and difficult set of books “inspired.”

Sure, Paul didn’t know what we know. By claiming inspiration, he would seem to be affirming a literal six-day Creation and an earth history of about six thousand years, though he wouldn’t have known about the hundreds of thousands of years revealed in the polar ice core samples, and he didn’t have to grapple with the findings of carbon dating, or the witness of the Grand Canyon, or the theory of evolution.

By claiming inspiration, he seems to be claiming that God has revealed a universe where he rules from the heavens, sending rain, thunder and lightning through windows in the sky; a universe where the living dwell on a flat earth that is fixed on pillars, with the sun rising and setting around it; a universe where the dead populate a dark and silent underworld known as Sheol; a universe which Galileo’s telescope completely disproved.

Paul never spoke directly against some of the problematic social practices that the Old Testament seems to condone—slavery, holy war, stoning, animal sacrifice, misogyny, and so on. He obviously preferred a single life to monogamy, and monogamy to polygamy, which many of his Biblical heroes would have seen the other way around.

Of course, if pressed by an agnostic time traveler from the twenty-first century, I’m sure Paul would know exactly how to defend everything—THE FLOOD.

Problem solved.     Continue reading

Look Who’s Talking

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The Bible can be a real headache. It would be so much easier if it was written like the Qur’an—one prophet, one revelation.

But the Bible is nothing like that. It has sixty-six books and about forty authors. Men ranging from kings to shepherds, scholars to fishermen, all prophets in their own right, inspired to put quill to parchment, writing from three different continents in three different languages over two millennia.

Yet despite all the centuries and all the cultural dissonance, the book holds together, as long as you know how to read it.

Why qualify that statement? Why not just put II Timothy 3:16 on a big flag, telling the world that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”?

Well, have you read it?    Continue reading

Two-Headed God?

Yeah, maybe I complain about everything, and I cry a lot, but I have the joy of the Lord deep down in my heart. I’m uncomfortable with ex-cons, drug dealers and gays, but I love them with the love of the Lord. Okay, maybe I stress over finances, but in my soul I have a peace that passes all understanding.

Can we stop all this ridiculous double-talk and call a platypus a platypus? No more Christianese.

There is another thing that believers claim that seems to contract logic. This one, however, is actually in the Bible. We say that God is loving, slow to anger, compassionate and forgiving, but also that He can lose his temper or get jealous and strike down individuals, families and entire nations. Does the Bible contradict itself? Do we have a two-headed God?

One solution is to break God’s apparent schizophrenia between two members of the Godhead. Jesus hangs on a cross, forgiving sin, setting captives free, loving us “this much,” while his Father is hiding his face, having his wrath appeased with a blood sacrifice. This would help make sense of the dichotomy between the God who appeared in thunder and smoke on a mountaintop, commanding Moses to stone rebellious children, and the God who came as a baby in a manger, encouraging little children to come to him.

But Jesus insisted that to know him was to know his Father (John 14:7 – 10). Well, I guess that makes sense of Revelation 19 where Jesus shows up with a two-edged sword in his mouth leading an army from heaven to smite the nations of the earth and rule them with a rod of iron. Like Father, like Son, right?

Atheists love this topic. Agnostics squirm over it. Some Christians avoid it. But I don’t think we need to. Here are three analogies that might help to make some sense of this, though I’m sure there is much more to explore:

The Surgeon:

When a surgeon looks at a body, he plans to do whatever he can to maximize the health of that body. Usually a surgeon is facing some sort of antagonist—a failing organ, a diseased appendage, a tumor. He is trained to recognize when a disease or infection has spread too far, setting the entire body at risk. Better to lose an arm than the entire body.

Sin is symbolically compared to leprosy in the book of Leviticus. In fact, the ritual associated with cured leprosy is one of the most beautiful and symbolic portrayals of Christ, involving the killing of one bird, then dipping another bird in the blood and watching it fly away with a bit of hyssop, red string and cedar tied to its foot. Unscramble that!

If God sees sin as a disease, and God is the great Healer, shouldn’t we expect a least part of his healing efforts to involve removing things from the earth that might cause greater damage over time?

In Genesis 15 God tells Abraham that he will send Israel into Canaan at a time when the sin of the Amorite is “full”. In Deuteronomy 18 we are told that these nations were displaced because of their sorcery. They were making their children pass through fire, practicing divination, casting spells and calling up the dead. God lays the same expectation at the feet of his own people, telling them if they will not be the holy nation that he called them to be, they would share the same fate at the nations they displaced. Ultimately, this is what happens, though God does preserve a remnant in the end, keeping his promise despite the persistent unfaithfulness of Israel.

How can the God who said, “Thou shalt not kill”, lead his people directly into war? Israel was God’s scalpel. It was not the judgment of Israel upon the pagan nations, but the judgment of God through his people. For someone like Hitler, genocide is an atrocious evil. For God, as Creator and Judge, it is a responsibility of grace, and we should trust his wisdom.

The Gardener:

Men are often compared to plants in Scripture. Yahweh mentions cutting down Judah like a tree, leaving a stump. Out of that stump would come a sprout—Jesus. That same sprout claims to be like a vine, and his people are the branches. His father is the gardener, pruning the branches to maximize production.

It may seem like a gardener does violence to a garden as he rips up the weeds and dumps them in a wheelbarrow, or tackles the overgrown branches or dead wood from his flowering plants. Maybe the plants would tremble when the gardener approaches, having no power to stop the ripping and tearing and cutting, but also having no perspective of what a beautiful, healthy garden should look like.

A conflict of vision can lead to a conflict of values. For God to prune his own people, or uproot the weeds may seem to contradict any claims to God being kind or generous or good. But does anyone think of a gardener as violent or vicious? Only from a plant’s point of view.

The Parent:

Confession: my parents spanked me. In today’s PC culture, spanking may seem like child abuse, but I knew better. My parents loved me. All day, every day. They never wanted to discipline me, and after I got what I had coming to me, they would always hug me and talk me through it. That’s why spanking was affective for me. I knew I was wrong, I paid the consequence, we hugged it out, then started over.

I think that our lack of connection with our heavenly father leads us to see his discipline, pruning, or even cosmic surgery as violence rather than love or grace. We hear him tell Saul to wipe out the men, women and children of the Amalekites, and wonder if God is a bit of a tyrant, though we’d never say it out loud.

Isn’t this what Satan tried to do with Eve? Tempting her doubt the goodness of God? Presenting God as a self-serving megalomaniac rather than a concerned parent, a lover of beauty, or a preserver of righteousness? Let’s not make the same mistake.