The Bible was the spiritual text of choice when I grew up. Like many of us, my family had one and though revered as sacred, I don’t have a single memory of anyone actually opening it. I was given my paternal grandmother’s Bible with our family record of marriages, births and deaths recorded in it. I will always cherish it but I will do so with the awareness that my grandmother didn’t actually read it. Neither or she or my grandfather belonged to a church or showed any desire to participate in one.
The Bible became significant in my life as a teenager when I committed myself to a serious search of the way to be a genuinely good person. At 16 my spoken desire was to become a TRUE Christian. Having loosely grown up in a mainline Christian denomination, I had experienced it as someone on the outside looking in rather than anyone with any real awareness of what on earth it was all about. After a hayride and bonfire on a crisp cool fall evening in Nebraska, I found myself awakened to the possibility that Christianity might be a more valuable pursuit than I had realized. As the weeks went on I sought out more opportunities to understand this real Christianity better. My desire to live my life within its boundaries only increased and as it did, the Bible became a conduit of life to me. As it did, church attendance and being with those of similar devotion became the center of my life.
I graduated from high school a very different person than the one I was when I started. Smoking, drinking and dabbling in rebellious pursuits were short lived once the new devotion to the Bible and Jesus took over. Honestly, I no longer needed anything like that. I felt incredibly positive much of time because I was fully aware that I was walking with the God of the Universe, the creator of the stars. In a small group designed for the leadership students of the group I studied the first chapter in the book of James. Why the adult leaders chose that place to guide me in laying down a Christian foundation, I’ll never know, but that verse by verse, word for word study has literally given me the capacity to walk through some of the darkest of times in my life.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
This was literally the first scripture I memorized and chewed over and over as I lived my life. The process of doing it gave me strength and courage to walk through the experiences I had with a weird illness the doctors thought to be Lupus. I was 16 with my whole life in front of me. “Consider – stop, think about and look closely at…it-whatever it is…all – everything about you – joy…” This was my way of coping. This was the life blood of my being. Over and over the words went in my head and the promise that God was testing my faith to produce endurance and endurance would have its perfect result in my life… making me perfect, complete lacking in nothing…I am far from perfect and complete 43 years later but what I can say for sure is that as a result of this kind of effort applied to biblical study, I simply can not decide to believe that the various trials that come into my life do not work for a more perfect result in my life. AND I HAVE TRIED.
The years that followed this period of intense study led me to believe that anything and everything I would need to know or believe would be found between the covers of the Holy Bible. Understand that when I say, everything, I truly mean every single thing.
I have a cold…seek God’s word in the Bible.
I need a job…seek God’s word in the Bible.
I need/want a husband…seek God’s word in the Bible.
I need a new dress for an event and I only have X number of dollars…seek God’s word in the Bible.
I’m 13 weeks pregnant with my second baby and my water just broke…seek God’s word in the Bible.
Get the picture? The Bible was my life and as a result, prayer, spending time with other Christians, sharing a four point gospel gleaned from its pages with those who didn’t know what was in it, also became my life.
SO MUCH GOOD.
What was less understood by myself and those who knew me well, was that underneath all of the good and all of the faith and all of the practices this life had led me to employ, was a ruthless desire to be real. That desire for authenticity and truth is for reasons I have yet to discover, completely ingrained in my DNA. I have vivid memories as a child sitting in school wondering if what I was being told was the truth and almost always would have to test the validity of things. I know we all do this but I was strangely driven. I was in trouble a lot growing up because I always pushed the envelope and had to see things for myself. I have one strong memory of sitting with my arms folded and vowing that when I grew up, I would not forget what it was like to be a kid. I was determined that adults would know that kids weren’t stupid and had things to contribute. Thus, the impetus behind becoming a teacher, I’m guessing.
As much as I loved my life of faith and practice with the Bible at its core, I was almost always dealing with the reality that something profound was amiss. Year after year, I pushed through the resistance to things that did not make sense to me. Year after year I continued to lean into being a wholehearted and devoted follower of the Bible. Bible studies, conferences, missions trips, Christian school for my profession and for my children’s education. Three years working part time in a Christian bookstore selling…Bibles and the stories written by those who traveled on the same path. I was one hundred percent saturated in all of it. THEN it came. Like a dark smoke from the mouth of hell, a force so strong came into my life, burned up everything I was, left me for dead and opened the door to an entirely new life that finally makes sense to me. It makes sense because at its core, it is simply real.
This darkness that began to overtake me wasn’t really darkness. In fact, it was just the opposite. It was a bright, white beam of increasingly intense light that slowly exposed the real darkness I had been living in for way too long. Starting with a small candle-like flame of understanding, it grew in intensity until it became a ravaging flame of intense scrutiny that I could not escape. I had no choice but to stay put in the middle of the fire. In that place, the pages of the Bible began to burn. The structure of religion began to crumble. The relationships built to hold up a belief structure were seared beyond recognition. I had never been so lonely. Paradoxically, I had never been so aware of a God who was there with me in the intensity of the flames.
One question from a guide in the furnace changed everything for me. That question was this.
“Have you ever considered that you may need to approach the Bible in a different way?”
I. had. not.
The next time I went to my Bible, opened its pages and sought divine advice, my eyes landed on words below the title of one of the books within The Book. They simply said that this text was written in 60 AD. I looked at that and went, “What that you say?” AD…as in the year of our Lord…the day Jesus was born. Wait…the guy who wrote this, did so 60 years after Jesus was born? So why do I read it as if it was written it as it happened? Why do I read it as if it is relevant to my life today?
Understand that for me, the only possible place I would ever feel free to ask such a question and accept the answer I would come up with, would be in this intensely brutal hot place of trial. In that place, I was desperate to escape but simply could not. Any attempt to return to where I had been would only bring more pain and suffering to my situation. I had no way to go but through it.
I began to realize from the beginning of my love affair with the Bible that I had chosen to believe some things that in my situation at the time no longer made sense. The first of those things was the established belief within my faith community that all of the words in the Bible were literally dictated by God for mankind to follow. The belief is based on the following scripture from 2 Timothy 3:16
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
In my life from 16 until this day in my 43 year, it was essential for me to believe that all scripture meant that all of the words in the Bible we have today from Genesis to Revelation, were literally breathed into being in the mind of the writer of the text by the God of the universe to instruct mankind. ALL of them. Every single one. This was what I believed until that day. That day the balloon popped and once it did it could never be re-inflated.
As I look at the Bible today, I see it as a group of ancient texts that began in many places as oral stories passed on to others. Long before anything was ever written down on any kind of solid source there was no other way to pass along information gleaned from one’s experiences. Jewish scribes were tasked with writing things down but they are not responsible for the content of this version of the Bible. They were also not claiming to have been inspired but were instead the record keepers of their day. The Bible is simply not an actual recording of events as they occurred like we have the capacity to do today. And think about it, today we can make anything look like it was a real event in real time. Imagine those coming generations who discover our trove of movies and how they will determine what is and is not true within them?
So this is me. This is my story on my journey. Today, I still believe in God and that is because I believe I have personal experiences with that God. I continue to follow the teaching of Jesus. I continue to believe that Jesus did die on the cross but I believe that it was because he assaulted religion with his teachings and his life. I am not sure I can embrace that it was to save us from original sin. As to his resurrection, I can only say that in principle, my life seems lived with cycles of death, burial and resurrection which makes me think that there is deep truth in the Easter story. I am not certain anymore and I no longer have to be. In this place in my life – 59 freakin years old!! – I am out of that intense fire and the darkness associated with it is no more.
The Bible remains a source of deep wisdom to me. It remains a record of the encounters others had with a prophet named Jesus and how I can connect with his wisdom. I am no longer obsessed with getting it ingrained into my psyche or making sure I follow it to the letter. Today, I worship God in what I believe to be spirit and truth and attempt to love mankind as myself. That’s all that makes sense to me.