When the Bible is hard

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

We’ve all seen the inspirational wall calendars that feature choice Bible verses tucked between pictures of kittens and lighthouses and petunias. These are usually verses like, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:11) or “a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30) or “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

It’s been said before that you don’t see a lot of wall calendars featuring verses like, “Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us—he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:8-9) or “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission” (1 Timothy 2:11).  They don’t exactly have the same ring to them…and yet they are there, tucked between stories about animals and arks (and the mass destruction of mankind), burning bushes and plagues of locusts (and the death of first-born children), stairways to heaven and colorful robes (and men with multiple wives).

When I was a kid, one of my favorite songs to sing in Sunday school was “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho.”  I only recently realized that this little song is about genocide. The passage it celebrates—Joshua 6:1-27—describes the violent killing of every man, woman, and child in the city (on God’s orders)!

One of the hardest truths for me to swallow as an adult is that the Bible is not an easy book to read. In fact, there are times when I want to throw my copy across the room in frustration and despair.

In the book, I write about coming to terms with the fact that the Bible is a text “teeming with conflict and contrast, brimming with paradox, held together by creative tension” (p. 189) and realizing that “maybe God wants us to have these discussions [about biblical interpretation] because faith isn’t just about being right; it’s about being a part of a community” (p. 194).

But I still really struggle with parts of the Bible—particularly the genocidal conquests of the Old Testament (which seem so contrary to Christ’s instructions to love our enemies) and what appears to be blatant misogyny in the letters of Paul.

Perhaps my least favorite passage in all of Scripture is found in 1 Timothy 2:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (I Timothy 2:11-15).

What Bible passages do you struggle with the most?  I’m not really looking for answers on how best to interpret these passages—just honest confessions about how they trouble or challenge you.

[P.S. - I think this might be an interesting question to pose to some other writers/bloggers (like we did with "What is the gospel?"). Let me know if there is someone in particular you would like to hear from, and I can try to track him or her down.] Photo by ElDave

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