Theological Reflections of Pastor Larry Dahlstrom, ret.

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Understanding the Bible

I am saddened by the use of the Bible to so easily judge and condemn those who are different. I fear it is a error in Biblical interpretation which leads to self justification of belief systems which are neither Biblical nor fair. Using the Bible to condemn someone often ends up being a misuse of God's Word.

We like to think of the Bible as an answer book, when in reality it is a story book and only as we read the story, with the human as well as divine themes, do we get close to understanding its message. The Bible is not a mechanical book which seeks to give us answers. It is a relational book which seeks to engage us in a dramatic, life giving, life changing way. It seeks a receptive heart and mind, open to change; not a closed heart and mind which knows the answer before the question is asked and is only looking for verification. It doesn't deliver God like a gum ball machine, but is where we may discover the presence of the living God in our history.

The Bible was written by humans - humans inspired by God. It has human errors as well as divine inspiration. It contains the culture of the day in which it was written as well as the mystery of God's Word in human existence. To come close to understanding what it seeks to say - and none of us do this perfectly - we have to remember its imperfect human side as we seek to hear the divine Word of God.

An example is I Cor 14: 33b, 34: "As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as even the law states." Do we take this to be how God would have it today? Is it disrespect for or violation of scripture to not follow this advice of the Apostle Paul? Or would it would be a violation of God's Word if we did follow it?

And again, Proverbs 31:4-7: "It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink; or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed, and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more." Is this the kind of advice we expect from the Bible? Is it to be followed literally?

Indeed, it can be dangerous to take the Bible literally, that is, "following the words of the original exactly" and again, "tending to understand words in the strict sense or in an unimaginative way." (Webster's Dictionary of American English) To do so it is necessary to be selective for there are passages none of us would follow. Like Exodus 35:2:

"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death."

Karl Barth, a renowned Protestant theologian of the 20th Century said, "I love the Bible too much to take it literally." To do so is to select those passages which fit one's beliefs, not those which challenge one to grow in understanding. It is to use the Bible to keep one from making the changes God seeks in our lives.

Those who selectively condemn homosexuality with literal Biblical quotations often deny the validity of other literal quotes. Such as, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away;... And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell." (Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:29,30) Would those who use the Bible so harshly towards homosexuality follow this admonishment? Of course not! This is figurative language, not literal.

I do not mean to walk rough shod over anyone's love for the Bible. I only seek to remind you that it best be used to inspire all people to enter into an encounter with the living God, not as a book of judgment toward those who are different. For you see, the Bible not only has a meaning, but also seeks to produce a meaning again and again in our lives.

A Native American boy was talking with his grandfather. 'What do you think about the world situation?' he asked. The grandfather replied, 'I feel like two wolves are fighting in my heart. One is full of anger and hatred. The other is full of love, forgiveness and peace.' 'Which one will win?' asked the boy. To which the grandfather replied, 'The one I feed.'"

There is enough hatred in this world without using the Bible to fuel hatred towards homosexuality. Feed on the Word of God as the mystery of God's great love for all - ALL people - and leave the judging to God, who is much more merciful than we dare believe or perhaps want God to be!