Monday, February 27, 2012

A Saint and Cynic Talks to God

Sometimes, Lord, I think I’d like to be a Fundamentalist. You know, a biblicist, an inerrantist.

I don’t want to be one of those jerky Fundamentalists that you meet sometimes, the obnoxious ones who tell you what you have to believe what they believe and that you’re going to burn in hell forever if you don’t. As if what a person believes saves them from God’s eternal fiery, wrath. Doesn’t good doctrine teach us that not even good doctrine saves us? Doesn’t good doctrine teach us that we are saved by your grace alone?

No, I would want to be a Fundamentalist like my neighbors up the street. They’re nice people, Lord, bless them. They live their faith quietly and earnestly. They love you passionately and talk about you freely. I can respect that.

Sometimes I think that it would be nice to have their sense of certainty, to have an authority outside of myself that is absolutely infallible, a court of final appeal that trumps all other authorities. I think it would be nice to have the Bible as a kind of divine reference book, God’s Big Book O’ Answers, the font of all knowledge and truth. Got a question? Take the leather bound book down off the shelf, read the right verse, proclaim “The Bible says,” and that settles it. No more wrestling with moral issues. It’s all there in black and white and maybe a few red letters.

But of course I can’t be a Fundamentalist, Lord. That’s not how I’m made. You put this meat computer in my head and I can’t help using it. To be a biblicist would require me to deny too much evidence, too much reality. I can’t help but see that when an inerrantist says “The Bible says” it really means “My interpretation of the Bible says.” I can’t help but see that the Bible is not a single document. It doesn’t speak with a single voice. It raises more questions than it answers.

I can’t help but see that Fundamentalism is a defensive posture, closed and guarded against new information, threatened by contradictory evidence. Frightened. I can’t live my life that way. There is too much wonder, too much delight, too much surprise to guard against it all. Besides, what does it mean to be saved except to be safe? If I am saved by your grace, Lord, why would I need to be on the defensive? I can’t be a Fundamentalist.

I love the Bible, Lord. I read it. I study it. I wrestle with it. I find you revealed in it. But you are not contained in it. It’s not a God-in-the-Box. The Bible is a wonderful, maddening, conflicted, enlightening collection of rich spiritual documents. I’m thankful for it. In it I find the testimony of people like myself: saints and sinners and cynics and believers and doubters and clay-footed pilgrims...and I find that you love them all.

But I can’t surrender my brain to the Bible...or to someone’s interpretation of it. I can’t be a Fundamentalist. The cognitive dissonance would undo me.

So, I guess I’m stuck, Lord. Stuck with ambiguity. Stuck with a Bible that is not just black and white, but also full of grays. Yes, and red letters. Yes, and also orange, and yellow, and green, and blue, and purple.

I guess I’m stuck trusting in your grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


  1. Well, I don't think you would make a very good fundamentalist anyway. You are way too nice!

    You hit it on the head when you said, "I can’t help but see that when an inerrantist says “The Bible says” it really means “My interpretation of the Bible says.”"

    The Bible is language, and language by its nature is a nothing BUT a process of interpretation! That's just what it is! You take either a pattern of sounds and silences, or scratches on bark or clay or parchment or paper and you INTERPRET them into words - which you then have to INTERPRET into meaning!

    Then you add to that the whole other complicated layer of interpreting one ancient language into another modern language...

    ...well, it is just inescapably messy business! Inescapably inexact and FULL of uncertainty. Well, nothing BUT uncertainty!

    But my faith isn't in a nice IDEA about God, or a well thought out and organized system of theology (well, which I don't have anyway!) - no, my faith is in a God who is actually, truly THERE. Not there, but HERE. Who is real, and present and loving.

    Of course, I am not ALWAYS certain of that, I don't always have a sense of His presence, lots of times I don't - but I do enough to say that if I had to answer the question, Is God really there? Or not? I have to answer -

    Yes! He is!

  2. Yup. Everything we see, or hear, or read gets interpreted. Our brains supply the meaning. Fundamentalism is a principle of interpretation and not one that I find tenable.

    I have to say, though, that I have known some very nice...kind, intelligent, earnest...Fundamentalists.