Idols of Paper and Ink

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today we continue working our way through Evolving in Monkey Town with an excerpt from Chapter 17, entitled “Sword Drills”

Sometimes I wonder who really had the most biblical support back in the 1800s, Christians who used Ephesians 6 to support the institution of slavery, or Christians who used Galatians 3 to support abolition. Both sides had perfectly legitimate verses to back up their positions, but in hindsight, only one side seems even remotely justifiable on a moral level. On the surface, the Bible would seem to condone slavery. But somehow, as a church, we managed to work our way around those passages because of a shared sense of right and wrong, some kind of community agreement. Maybe God left us with all this discontinuity and conflict within Scripture so that we would have to “pick and choose” for the right reasons. Maybe he let David talk about murdering his enemies and Jesus talk about loving his enemies because he didn’t want to spell it out for us. He wanted us to make the right decisions as we went along, together. Maybe God wants us to have these conversations because faith isn’t just about being right; it’s about being part of a community. 

For as long as I can remember, the Christian response to conflicts within Scripture has been to try and explain them away, to smooth over the rough spots and iron out the kinks. The goal is to get everyone on the same page, to come up with one consistent, coherent, and comprehensive “biblical worldview” so that we can confidently proclaim that God indeed has an opinion about everything, including politics, economics, theology, science, and sex. We think that if we can just have a perfect, seamless book that can be read objectively and without bias, we will have the ultimate weapon. There will be no need for a God who stays hidden up on Mount Sinai, and there will be no need for each other. Instead, we will have a physical representation of God on which to dwell, personal idols made of paper and ink. 

As much as I struggle with the things I don’t like about the Bible—the apparent contradictions, the competing interpretations, the troubling passages—I’m beginning to think that God allows these tensions to exist for a reason. Perhaps our love for the Bible should be measured not by how valiantly we fight to convince others of our interpretations but by how diligently we work to preserve a diversity of opinion. 

Funny how I wrote this long before my “year of biblical womanhood” made many of these questions and conflicts a daily reality! Have you struggled with the Bible? In what ways might that struggle be redemptive?  When did your Bible-shaped idol come crashing down?

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