Have you had one of those moments reading the Bible where you just said, “I don’t like that”? Not that you were denying what was there, of course—but as you read, you found the text felt very strange. Almost alien. Whether it was a passage wherein God punished his grumbling people in the wilderness, or reading of his laws regarding intimate relationships, Jesus insisting on his divinity throughout the gospels, or maybe the entire book of Revelation—you can’t help but have moments reading the Bible when you have to stop and say, “I don’t get it,” or “I don’t like it.”
This tension we feel when we come to the Bible is a good thing, believe it or not. It’s in those moments when we’re confronted with the reality of the Bible, this book that causes so much trouble for so many:
- It causes trouble for those who desperately want all religions to say basically the same thing.
- It causes trouble for those seeking to make a name for themselves as they bring about their manmade utopia.
- It causes trouble for average Christians who are trying to live peacefully in a world that increasing finds everything they believe offensive.
And why does it do this? Why does this book cause so much trouble? Because it really is a strange book. And, as Peter Jensen wrote, “every decade that passes, its strangeness becomes more apparent.”[1. Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, 203]
In many ways the Bible has always been an outsider, challenging its own contemporary culture as it challenges ours. The opening chapters of Genesis fitted no more comfortably with ancient cosmogonies than with our own; the Bible’s willingness to provide the human narrative from its origin to its destiny and to judge the meaning of it all in terms of good and evil always threatens the evaluation of those who do not have such a lofty viewpoint.
So what do we do when we feel this tension—the strangeness of the Bible? We really only have two options:
- We can apologize for the Bible
- We can press into the tension.
The former is what we’ve seen repeatedly throughout history right up our own day—a (rarely) skillful revision or rejection of what the Bible actually says in favor of the views of the prevailing culture, whether the abandonment of the supernatural, the denial of the atonement, or the smoothing over of sexuality. This is what we cannot do, no matter how tempting it is.
Rather than apologize, we should embrace the latter option and press into the tension we feel. We can acknowledge that there are aspects of the Bible which are profoundly difficult for us to accept. They will put us at odds with the world, and even ourselves at times. But this is also what should encourage us—for it means the words in this Bible that reads us as much as we read it, that challenges us in ways we didn’t think possible, may just actually be true.