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Monday, March 18, 2013

"But My Bible Says"

“You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”   ~ Anne Lamott

The ultimate recourse for those who want to keep homosexuality on the sins list is, "My Bible says...."  The sentence generally ends with "...homosexuals are an abomination," or, "...gays are going to hell," or "God hates gays."  This is intended to be the final word on the matter; the Bible has spoken, the issue is clear, we can move on to other things.  How so? Because the Bible has spoken.

The Bible, of course says no such thing.  I will prove it to you.  Go get your Bible.  Now, take it in your hands and bring it up to your eyes.  Say to it very clearly, "Bible, tell me, what do you have to say about homosexuality?"  If you don't hear anything, repeat your question; maybe louder this time.  If there is still no answer, shake it; it may be taking a nap.  Still nothing?  Well, that's all right, because if you do hear the Bible answering, you may be on your way to a psychiatric hospital.

The Bible "says" nothing.  It is an inert object, words on paper.  It cannot utter a sound.  Of course, you knew that all along, yet you may still want to repeat that the Bible says something.  What is really going on is that YOU say the Bible says something; you speak for the Bible.  The Bible is deaf and dumb.

Unfortunately, we too often make what "the Bible says" what we want it to say.  You see, there is no such thing as an uninterpreted reading of anything, from the daily newspaper to the Bible.  We read (or "hear what it says") though a filter or a lens.  No one can read without one.  Your filter/lens is everything that you have learned through your culture, ethnicity, gender, nationality, get the point...that shapes how you perceive meaning.  Every word you read or hear is processed through this filtering system.  Everyone reads or hears the same word or words differently. Depending on how far apart our systems are, we can basically understand each other or totally misunderstand.  In explaining this to an adult Sunday School class, one member said, "I can think of something we both read that needs no filtering, that is straightforwardly and immediately understood."  "Okay," I said. "Let's have it." He responded, "God is love."  I replied with, "What do you mean by 'God' and what do you mean by 'love'"? (No need to go into what "is" is!)  He got my point.

When it comes to reading the Bible, we have a two to three thousand year old bridge to cross.  We need to be able to "hear" as though we were an immediate member of the culture of those who created those biblical words.  This is virtually impossible.  The best we can do is approximate this; we will never actually achieve this.  And even for those who were contemporaries, they had their own problems.  Here's Peter commenting on Paul's letters: "There are some things in them hard to understand."  Indeed.

So the next time you are tempted to tell someone what the Bible says, why not be honest and tell them that you think this is what the Bible, properly interpreted, means.  You will have achieved two things.  First, you will have admitted that your interpretation is open to opinion (and that it is your opinion), and that you might be, dare I say it...wrong.

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