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Posts Tagged ‘understanding bible’

            I got home Monday evening from 2 months of amazing journeys – a lot of which have occupied this blog space for the past 2 plus months.  But upon arriving home it was time to catch up on the few TV shows I like to follow.  One of them is “Real Time with Bill Maher.”  I know.  Bill Maher is a kind of love him or hate him guy.  I think he is really funny, often clever, but I do admit there are some moments; some comments that make me cringe.  Last night I watched the episode that first aired last Friday evening.  Among his guests was the Reverend Jim Wallis.

Wallis is an evangelical pastor, but one who embraces many causes for social justice often not associated with evangelical Christians.  His presence shows how misunderstood the depth and breadth of the evangelical Christian movement really is.  It is far more diverse, far more embracing of a multitude of political views and agendas than most people think.  This is a lesson I have learned in my years in Tallahassee.  Evangelicals come in many different stripes and beliefs, but united by the desire to spread the “good news” of Jesus’ message.  Maher calls Wallis “one of the good ones.”

One aspect of their conversation was really interesting.  After Wallis told how Jesus’ message about the poor (he cited Matthew 25 about how you treat the least is how you are treating Me) has shaped his perspective on social issues.  Maher began to push him about accepting the Bible as being from a perfect God.  Maher’s critique (and the critique of all atheists) is that it contains not just the messages about peace and love, but a lot of laws that seem arcane and cruel as well as passages justifying the slaughter of innocent populations in God’s name.  Wallis tried to respond that the overall message was one of love, of caring for the stranger, but Maher would have none of that, saying that he did not see how one could get guidance from a book containing so many hateful passages along side of the inspiring ones.   Maher’s underlying question was really how can this book, filled with these contradictions, be considered a guide for anyone.

I would like to provide the answer that Rev. Wallis could not.  He could not give this answer and still be considered an evangelical Christian pastor.  Mordecai Kaplan, the rabbi who founded the Reconstructionist movement taught the following.  The Bible (in particular the Hebrew Bible) was not written by God and handed to humans.  Rather it is the human record of interaction with God.  I believe that the preponderance of evidence, including Biblical literary criticism, source criticism and just plain logic confirm that the Bible is a human construct that wrestles with the nature of God.  The power of the Hebrew Bible, and I daresay the Christian Bible as well, is that reflects the range of human emotions, actions, and beliefs about God.  It contains the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I contend that is a great thing, not a flaw.

Moreover, the figures of the Hebrew Bible are not superheroes, not demi-god figures portrayed as perfect.  They are humans with all human flaws.  Moses, David, Solomon, all of the prophets – they are presented with all their great achievements as well as all of their warts.  Of what use would a Bible be that only presented the good side of human existence and reality?  If we did not see the misapplication of religion in the Bible how could we then really understand the heights to which profound, moral spirituality can lift a person?  Most important, the Bible, particularly the Torah, actually commands us to use our intellectual and spiritual faculties to make choices about the kind of life we wish to live.

A great example of this is in this week’s parashah (Torah portion), Re’eh.  The first word, re’eh, is the imperative form of the verb “to see.”  We are commanded to “see” something.  The Torah says, “Anochi notein lifneichem b’rachah u’klalah.” “I put before you blessing and curse.”  The command to see this is a command to understand and perceive it.  We can often “look” at something but not “see” it.  Seeing means a level of comprehension beyond what is obvious on the surface.  Jews are not literalists who are ever satisfied with the plain sense of the words.  We are trained to question, to investigate – to seek out – the meanings within the text.  Meaningful choices can only be made after “seeing.”

Unfortunately, most people only “look.”  Most people either accept or condemn based on a cursory reading or understanding of Torah/Bible.  Seeing takes effort; an effort most are not willing to make.  Yet that effort can lead to life that is indeed filled with blessing, not only for the individual, but all the people that person might affect as well.  The true beauty and power of the Bible is that it takes all of the possibilities open to humanity and tries to understand those possibilities in the context of the divine.  It is a lens for forming our relationship with God.  Through proper study and reflection, it becomes a lens for living life.

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