In the 1999 film ‘Fight Club’, Edward Norton’s character has an epiphany. Sobbing into Meat Loaf’s weirdly ample bosom, he confesses ‘I let go… I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom’.
Watch the clip here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BtIEquOkDpo
I have had a similar experience dawn on me. I didn’t mean to find it. I was pretty happy up to my eyes in Evangelical Charismatic church culture. I was director of worship at a large church and studying for a degree in Theology at the local Bible College. I had run prayer rooms, street missions and been in an evangelistic rock band in my teens and twenties. I was convinced we were right and was set to show the world! I treated my faith as both an identity and a superstition to live by, the Bible being the magical spell book in the middle of it all. Taught from a young age that this book was the literal word of God, I would read it in large swathes, and in short bursts. Growing up in Western civilization, I was completely comfortable with the violence of the Old Testament. Every film I watched affirmed that violence was the way to get things done. God was God! If he wanted to kill, then that’s his divine right! I didn’t really question anything – I had too much invested in ‘the truth’ to do that. All my family were believers, so everyone dear to me would be alright in a rapture scenario!
I was young, and so impressionable. I was part of the ‘revival generation’, and I planned to give my whole life to winning souls for Jesus and storming the gates of heaven in prayer.
But then things got more complicated. I got married and had children. Over the first decade of my marriage, and over the arrivals of 3 beautiful children, my simple Christian world-view would be rocked to it’s core. As my twenties drew to a close the questioning began. Before long I had allowed myself to deconstruct the classic Evangelical view on Hell, and this was the first in a line of domino-doctrines. When you marry someone, or Father a child, you are forced into a relationship where you lose control. You have to review your ideas about God through the filter of your own relationships. Moral and ethical quandaries are ten-a-penny. Questions about the nature of freedom, freewill, punishment, restoration, correction, justice, salvation and where they fit in loving another came rushing at me.
And so, like a good Christian, I would turn to the Bible for help. But which bit? Understanding God across 66 books seemed not just difficult, but pretty much impossible. How on earth was I to reconcile a God that is ok with genocide, and yet is meant to be ‘Prince of Peace’? The tensions between the God as literally understood in the OT and then revealed in Jesus Christ were too much. There were just too many contradictions. Even in the New Testament where a literal reading of passages such as 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 seems present an entirely different Jesus to the one who prayed forgiveness for his executioners in Luke 23:34*.
Some Christians are able to simply believe, as I once did, and these tensions do not disturb them. I cannot live that way and have peace. My fear of God being violent, self-centred and merciless to those who have failed to comprehend Him is very real. It’s fear that is strongly backed up by a literal reading of the Bible.
Which is why losing all hope of it being understood that way is freedom. I am learning to unlearn all my zealous evangelical literalism because for me, not only does it not stack up, but I believe it makes people ill. If you become what you behold, and you behold a violent, religiously petty God, guess what you start to manifest? You don’t have to look far for proof.
I believe there is a way for me to follow Jesus and have a relationship with my heavenly Father. It is to trust in distrusting the Bible as something that must be swallowed whole, no questions asked. I can now see the Bible not as a magical book of spells, or as something to be worshiped as perfect in it’s self. It’s a collection of 66 books, many of which have mysterious beginnings. I understand the Bible as a rich resource, which reveals truth: Jesus. I no longer try and make Jesus fit the Bible, but let the Bible fit around Jesus. There are passages that dazzle me in their brilliance – reflecting the glory of Christ. There are passages that horrify in their brutality, which serve to make the revelation of Christ so much more of a healing balm. I no longer feel the desperation and frustration of trying to reconcile what horrifies me with that which draws me to overwhelming hope, as somehow the literal words of very confusing God. Biblical literalism and inerrancy has become a system. And I see Jesus, calling us out of our boat-like systems, onto the water where we can stand, against all logic and laws – with our eyes on him.
* And even this verse isn’t in some of the earliest manuscripts!
by Dave Griffiths