The Bible Doesn’t Offer Certainty

the Bible challenges me to do things I’d rather not do and hold opinions that seem anachronistic. It makes me an outsider to the world, in ways hopeful and painful. And I have to accept that it makes my life harder in these ways, even though it doesn’t always offer certainty.

On the eve of his retirement from public life, Eugene Peterson, beloved evangelical hero, dropped a bombshell: he said in an interview that he would perform the marriage of a gay couple if asked. Some wept and some rejoiced.

Then he published a retraction.

I was not completely shocked when Peterson took it back. The saddest part of the several-day saga, for me, was the language he used:

I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.

For me, this stung even more than the confusion or betrayal of the retraction: that this normally-gracious pastor would use the phrase “a biblical view” to mean “The Biblical View: my view.” Even more because claiming to hold a “biblical view of everything” is pure hubris, and he should know it.

I shouldn’t still hurt when I’m branded as “unbiblical”—outside the fold—for disagreeing with the traditional position on this single issue; but I do. Years after I’ve reluctantly abandoned the label evangelical, I still miss my people. I hold out hope that they’ll slowly, quietly find more openness to their exiled sons and daughters, but they seem to care more about defending a single interpretation of a gilded book than about including us in the tradition that made us who we are.

What the gatekeepers of evangelicalism always seem to miss is that we wouldn’t care about being “left out” if we didn’t still love the same things they love. We are not clamoring to return to our old ways of thinking, but we’re also not trying to infiltrate and corrupt people with mind games. We’re just tired of being dismissed as caring more for ourselves than for the Bible, more for “culture” than for holiness.

I still read the Bible, and I still find inspiration, conviction, and direction there. Would you like to hear about a biblical worldview? Every day the Bible inspires me to prayer, love, and awe. It tells me that the universe was created by God, belongs to God, is called good by God: worldview, indeed. I’m humbled, reminded what an infinitesimal speck I am compared to the rest of space and time. How could someone with this knowledge fail to see God clapping with delight at the slow and steady discoveries of science (2 Samuel)? How could they condemn human flesh or fear those created to look different (Jeremiah)? How could they not don sackcloth and ashes in repentance for how we have ravaged this precious jewel of a planet (Leviticus)?

The Bible tells me how. Because humans laugh, like Sarah, to think that God could be at work without our help. We play God, like Adam, in choosing what to eat, what to wear, where to hide—so we have made a terrible mess of things. We follow our pride and tell ourselves it is what God would want, and then we find ourselves huddling, alone, trying ever harder to make things right but falling ever farther away from the center that holds all together.

No wonder, then, that at every turn we cling like Israel to strong men who promise to save us, kings who say they’ll protect but mean to use us for their own gain. No wonder we fail, like Israel, to care for the vulnerable among us, seeking as we do only to protect ourselves. We like the idea of beating swords to plowshares, but none of us is going to go first. The Bible tells me God longs for us to find peace, wholeness and well-being: shalom. But we trade it every day for a bowl of soup, false and petty promises of security, titillation, or well-appearing.

We do this when we hoard our resources, failing to give more than the minimum (Luke) and building fences to keep our neighbors out of our fields (Deuteronomy). Where God commands sharing, we practice divvying. Where God tells us there is abundance, we see scarcity. Where Jesus appears in the least of these, we hurry past to curry favor with Wizards of Oz.

We trade down, as the prophets tell us, when we use other people, benefitting from slave labor at one turn and browbeating friends into propping up our egos at another. We try to diagnose and meet our own needs from sunup to sundown, while God stands by, open hands, waiting to heal us.

We trade down when we forsake the image of God in others and make them into our sexual playthings. Yet, beyond that, when we get into the mechanics of it all, the biblical worldview has some shady ideas about sex. How many wives, exactly, should one have? And might it be more likely that the couple in Song of Solomon is not married than that they are? And if the family is the foundation of society, why didn’t Jesus get married? And why, exactly, were those spies in Canaan even speaking with Rahab the madam?

I don’t know. I still sometimes wish I did. By insisting that I consider God’s design for the world and my own sin, the Bible challenges me to do things I’d rather not do and hold opinions that seem anachronistic. It makes me an outsider to the world, in ways hopeful and painful. And I have to accept that it makes my life harder in these ways, even though it doesn’t always offer certainty. In the Bible, claiming to know God’s will and proclaiming it for my own purposes has been known as taking the Lord’s name in vain. So when there’s unclarity, I pray and wait. And I listen.

After all, the Bible is meant to point us to Jesus, right? Even when I feel there is unclarity, it is not my job to scour the book for certitudes or to force competing voices into harmony; nor does God need me to guard the boundaries of what the Bible is able to teach. It’s the Spirit’s job to speak through the mess. It is God who will translate story, epistle, poem, and law into song, wind, dance, and romance: the failed arguments of love.

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