I believe: “The writing of the Bible was conditioned by the language, thought and setting of its time. The Bible must be read in its historical context.”
We cannot hold
on to the past. We know that traditional structures disappear; however,
these disappearances have cost dearly. We have responses in ourselves
to which we must attend, if we want to appropriately encounter the new
world that is bearing us into rapidly changing times.
As a reforming Christian who has withdrawn (temporarily?) from active church participation, I do not believe in scripture as the literal and inerrant word of God. I have come to understand that scripture was inspired by God, but written by human beings who were, just as much as we all are, limited by psychological, sociological, cultural and historical circumstances.
I was recently taken with the words of old friend Wes Denyer: "Scripture is the best ‘word’ we have in trying to understand the will of God for us, but it is not inerrant, and we should not limit God to the words of scripture."
In other words, is it possible, as we gain knowledge and insight, as our vision of humanity is expanded and as the circumstances of the world change, that we may be able to see more clearly the nature of the God who called us into existence?
I believe God is the same yesterday, today and forever, but is it possible our ability to understand who God is, and what God requires of us, may change, develop and grow? For example, in the sixth chapter of the Book of Joshua, after the fall of the city of Jericho, by order of the Lord (the will of God) “they devoted to destruction by the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old.”
I do not believe for one minute that God ever commanded the slaughter of babies and old people! However, what I can understand is that people who lived in a time of continual fear and danger of violent death, and where life was “poor, nasty, brutish, and short” – would would be consistent with the nature of their own lives. They could imagine a God who called upon them to kill every man, woman and child, because that was the kind of world in which they lived.
To say that our understanding of who God was in the darkness of those times should continue to be the God we worship in 2016 is to limit God. We cannot continue to impose those cultural, historical and physical circumstances of the past on our understanding of God today.
As a for-instance and as society has advanced, in the past century our North American churches (to their credit) have moved away from gender bias and male-only leadership, racial bigotry and anti-gay positioning. Apologies have been made and reconciliation, in a number of instances, is ongoing.
So, still staying within the Old Testament, we find the same Hebrew people who believed God told them to commit genocide, developing and growing into a new understanding of God. We read things like:
• “They will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3).
• “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
• When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. Love him as yourself (Leviticus 19:34).
We learn and we grow, albeit slowly and often reluctantly. We have a way to go...We should all attempt to understand our world and its people in new ways, allowing us to live with greater compassion and justice, with more freedom and opportunities for all. In so doing, we set God free from our old and limited (religious) prejudices, narrow-minded thinking, intolerance, racism and hatred.
God doesn’t change…but we can! So must our churches, if they wish to remain relevant.
Sadly, however, I have to concede that we'll never completely catch up to the speed of change in our brief lifetimes. We're only human, limited by circumstances that are not necessarily of our own making.
We tend to blindly cling to, even fight for, centuries-old traditions and belief systems because we think that archaic biblical scriptures still apply to us in the 21st Century.
Give the God of today more credit than that! Look at the reality of the world freely and without prejudice. The wise individual is the one who sees reality as it really is and who looks into the depths of things. We are not taken out of the world but thrust into the midst of the fray for that is the place that, in Christ, God has made his own.
Dream the impossible dream...We need to continually pray individually and corporately for an understanding that has universal acceptance.