Biblical Discomfort (Why I Think Jesus Taught in Parables)

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”  – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Growing up in a Christian household, the Bible is something that I’ve known all my life. I was an AWANA kid; Scripture memorization was part of my life. It was the currency I used to buy approval; I could spout off entire passages, including chapter and verse references, to fit any occasion. (My greatest moment of achievement in those years was being named “Bible Quiz Champion” at our yearly event.) I loved Scripture – I’d read it all the time, Old Testament and New. I still sing the little song in my head about the books of the Bible when I’m looking up a verse (Genesis, Exodus, Levi-i-i-ticus!)

And, the uncomfortable truth is, I have grown to hate that same Bible that I memorized so diligently as a kid.

The reasons behind this turn around are probably more complex – or at least require a longer explanation – than I could give in just one, short blog. But, I think I can sum it up by using a familiar illustration:

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at your computer, browsing the Facebook, when you see a beautiful, well-worded status update by Your Liberal Christian Friend that is in support of gay marriage/reproductive freedom/evolution in science classrooms/whatever. Now, you might Like it, you might comment, you might Unfriend the person and immediately begin praying for them… whatever you do, I guarantee you that SOMEONE will post a comment that contains nothing but the text and reference for a Bible verse.
And that’s it. It’s like – Bible quote, mic drop.

And then, SOMEONE ELSE – normally with an opposing viewpoint – will quote another Bible verse to contradict the first Bible verse (or interpretation). Mic dropped again. This process of textual quotations and mic dropping continues between these two – sometimes involving a third or a fourth person – and before you know it, names are being called, stakes are being set up with kindling around them…Image

And the Gospel gets lost.

If there’s anything that will turn a non-believer (or even some believers) off a conversation with a group of Christians, it’s this never ending litany of Scripture quotations. The kinder folks will simply scroll past it. The less patient (I, unfortunately, include myself in this group) will eagerly reach for our Bibles (or Google) and maniacally cackle at the thought of taking the argument apart piece by piece.

I am so tired of this tactic that I’ve been completely turned off by the Bible for months at a time. It’s not because I don’t believe that the Bible has nothing good to say – on the contrary, I find much in the Bible to uplift, to edify, to encourage, to instruct… but that’s not the kind of quotations that I see used in arguments. The quotations I see are the slam verses, the passages that Christians quote when they want to tell other people how wrong they are.

And I just wish that we’d shut up about it once in a while.

Of course, generalities are much less valuable than specific situations. So, I’ll bring this home by referencing an issue that’s near to my heart and ALL OVER the Internet and other media.

The typical Christian response to the issue of LGBT rights has been a source of continuous frustration for me and many others. In case my own viewpoint on this issue isn’t clear, allow me a paragraph or two to clarify it. If you’re already very familiar with my stance (or you don’t care), feel free to skip over this next bit.

I think that the Bible has been given too much authority in a situation where it is unclear whether we’re dealing with ancient cultural bias or actual Divine Edict. As we begin to understand that same-sex attraction is something that is not chosen, we’re becoming less and less comfortable with the idea that God created a whole class of people who are doomed to live without the romantic love that heterosexuals have enjoyed by default. I don’t believe that the very small amount of Scripture dedicated to talking about same-sex attraction actually addresses the complex issues of human sexuality. I believe that same-sex Christian couples should hold their relationships to the same standard of purity that opposite-sex Christian couples do: keep the act of sex inside a committed relationship, one that is based on love and trust. More than that, I think that we should do same-sex Christian couples the same courtesy that we do opposite-sex couples; that is, we should allow the Holy Spirit to be God’s voice in their private lives, and keep our voices out of it.

Okay, so that was only one paragraph.

Now, how am I going to bring this issue back to my main point? I’m glad you asked.

Simply put, American culture (I would go so far as to say Western culture) is a culture that has been saturated in the language of Christianity for centuries. The Bible has been widely available in the English language for 500 years or more. Even non-believers in America have a certain degree of Biblical literacy. And, with the prominence of the issue of LGBT rights in the media over the past few years… everyone knows the Bible verses that say homosexuality is a sin.

Yet, everyone keeps quoting them. Why is this? Is it because we have no other good arguments? Is it because we’ve staked so much of our faith experience on the authority of every single verse of Scripture that we actually need it to be true? Are we lost without those verses?

I like to think that Jesus faced a similar problem – obviously, not with LGBT rights – with the Scriptures of His time. You see, the people of the first century had been burdened with the 650+ commandments of the Jewish Law for centuries. There was nothing to be done – everything you did, you were breaking one of those Laws. You could never be sanctified before God, never pure, never quite good enough under this Law.

If Jesus had been Just Another Jewish Rabbi, would He have reached the crowds in such numbers? If He had simply reminded everyone who listened to Him about the Law that they already knew, would He have become so popular as to become a threat to the religious authorities? I suspect that He would not have. The Jews of His time would have rolled their eyes, listened politely, and then gone back to living under religious oppression.

So, what did Jesus do? He taught in parables. He told stories. He spoke to the people where they were, giving them stories without explanations, trusting them to learn the meaning without being told. He spoke of God and the Kingdom in ways that fishermen, builders, and rich rulers could all understand.

In fact, He only really used Scripture when He was talking to the religious leaders – and those conversations were rarely pleasant for the other side.

Now, I value Scripture – it’s an important part of the language of the Church. And, as I said before, I find much in Scripture to admire and adhere to. And, I support the use of Scripture to edify, encourage and gently instruct.

But let’s stop using the words of the prophets and the saints to hit each other over the head.

And next time you feel moved to evangelize, or to try and teach the truth of God, skip the Scripture quoting and mic dropping. Try a parable instead. If it was good enough for the Savior, it should be good enough for us all.

My love to you, wherever you are.

Michael

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