In the climax of the old time radio show, the villain whined to Dick Powell that his hair had been pulled too hard. Powell responded, “The way things are looking, the state is going to have to shave your head.”
It dawned on me as I listened to the radio that many listeners, especially younger ones, might not get what Powell was actually saying, that the bad man would likely be convicted for his crimes and sentenced to die by the electric chair, which would require the state to shave the man’s head to carry out his sentence.
In the song, “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” one of the admonitions the singer makes against a P.T.A. board member is that she seems to use a lot of ice whenever her husband is away. You would have to know there was a time when people had ice delivered to their homes to understand that this statement implies that the ice man goes to the woman’s house very frequently whenever the woman’s husband is out of town.
If we can lose the ability to understand phrases and metaphors in just a generation or two, I thought, is it any wonder that large chunks of the Bible often seem just outside our grasp? Why would combining two kinds of material in one piece of clothing be a bad thing, for example? Why should Elisha get so irritated with some smart-mouthed youths for teasing him about his bald head that he would sick bears to maul them in revenge?
Even more so than in life, the Bible is layers of meaning. The core messages are irrefutable, black and white musts that even the most contentious believers can agree upon: salvation is a gift we receive when we repent of our sinful nature, accept our need for Jesus’ interference on our behalf to put us back into relationship with God ( a relationship broken by our sin), and make a public declaration of our renewed relationship through baptism.
When we reach out to the farther layers of the Bible’s meanings, our ability to come to a consensus is less clear. Does this “blurred” layer mean the Bible is not the word of God or not to be trusted? Of course not! Theologians have many wonderful, thoughtful answers to the Bible’s sometimes ambiguity, especially for us modern world readers. I have two, much more simple, reasons to believe you can trust the Bible as the Word of God.
One of the first people on record to question God is Job, the ancient man whom God allowed Satan to torture by stripping him of all the earthly wealth, health and family he had accrued. Job never berates God, even though he knows he hasn’t done anything to deserve so much devastation. He does, however, have some tough questions for God about what the way the world works. God’s answer underscores how silly it is that we humans, with a very finite perspective on the world and all that is in it, are always trying to proceed as if the answers to all the universe’s questions are actually within our grasp:
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’? “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it? Job 38:4-13
We believe in the Bible’s veracity because the God who knows so much more than we can ever imagine knows why there are sections of the Bible that make us go, “huh?”. In the end, do the places where you don’t quite get it really make or break your relationship with Him? My guess is no. And, when you finally get the answers to those questions in the realm of the angels, will the questions even matter anymore, anyway?
If you have trouble leaning into the truth of God’s Word, perhaps you need to take a clue from some of our modern “disciples.” Singer Nicole Nordemann asks in one of her records, “What if your wrong? What if there’s more? What if there’s hope you never dreamed of hoping for?” She encourages the non-believer to close his/her eyes, jump and wait to fall into the arms of Jesus. Steven Curtis Chapman likens his belief to diving into the river of faith, sink or swim.
This approach to a relationship with God, in which the believer spreads wide the arms and releases into the unknown is just the picture of faith that Christ offers us:
Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:15)
Have you ever met a cynical child? The child’s brain hasn’t been wounded by failed expectation, hasn’t suffered the agonies of mistaken conclusions, hasn’t learned to distrust. Rather than closing off their inner selves from the outside world because they have been hurt, children have the wide open hearts that accept love and give it unconditionally. By embracing the truth of God’s promises with the same kind of openness as we had when we were children who had not been wounded by a fallen world, we practice the kind of faith that was credited to Abraham as righteousness.
Only a faith that is willing to dive in to a relationship with God will survive the bumps and bruises of this life and reach toward the unknowable with a feeling of peace.