This recent blog post notes yet another example of a not uncommon story. It reminded me of something I wrote some years back, and have likely posted at least in part before…
To many people the Bible is more important than God. They consider the Bible to be the only validation of anything man can possibly have to do with God. They believe there is no point in believing there is a God unless you believe in the Bible. To them there is no useful God apart from the Bible, and there would be no point to God’s existence without the Bible. Reduced to its pure practicality, their view is that without the Bible there is no God.
If this is what I believe, then I will tend to defend the literal factuality of the Bible to the last crossed tee, dotted I, semicolon and comma. I will think that by this I am defending my faith, and in a sense I am doing so because my faith will not stand if a legitimate question is left in my mind concerning the absolute incorruptibility and historical accuracy of these little printed symbols. I may even come to defend this faith so adamantly I will convince myself that if the millennia have seen the least stroke of a pen altered in this book then my entire faith is meaningless. It will become essential that I believe such a thing could never have happened, and if need be I will devote my life to proving so. I will create an entire system of thought and an almost endless catalog of arguments and apologies to prove to myself my faith is valid because each and every printed word is unquestionable, and then I will be happy that I have a faith I can consider to be deep and strong.
On the other hand, sooner or later the book may fail me in some way, and if I have made the book my god, I will end up thinking God himself has failed me.
Or, maybe someday I will be holding my new baby in my arms and as she awakens and squints her eyes and wrinkles her nose and twists her mouth as if to cry, she notices the familiar contours of my face and instead she kicks her feet and wriggles her arms and coos and smiles as her eyes look up at mine. And I will carry her down the quiet street of my neighborhood in all of the joy and humility that only a parent knows, and I will sit with her on a park bench and watch all the children there laugh and play and I will think that if there is a God then children are reason enough for him to create man, and I will know something I have not known before. I will know that the word of God is in this tiny bundle in my arms and in the innocent gaiety of those children and in the moist Fall air I breath into my body and the exquisite beauty of the little gray birds who hop amongst the fallen leaves beneath the trees. I will know that what I am witnessing is God speaking to me like a hundred harmonized voices telling me at once a hundred truths I cannot deny and need not defend. I will know that if the truth and holiness of this moment were in any way dependent upon indubitable logical perfection in a particular book, then most certainly there is no real truth at all. I will know that if I require such a defense to have faith in what I see before me then I have no faith at all and I have no faith at all because I am absolutely blind. And the next time I pick up my book in which I thought I had such great faith I will forget all about my childish clinging based in human fear and instead I will see within the book a movement and current of God’s spirit revealing itself in images deep and profound. I will know it is not a book of millions of inarguable strokes of pens but rather it is one part of a painting whose subject is truth orchestrated upon the canvas of all creation. When I come to believe in this painting with my heart, rather than believing in its paint with my mind, I will know true faith in the word of God.
I sympathize with the fellow who stood amazed that he once believed the Bible in the way that he had. I hope that eventually the break that occurred within him will not be an end, and will instead be a beginning. I hope he will come to see that the Word of God is not paint, but a painting, and that he will come to find himself on God’s canvas.