O Me of Little Faith

When we were expecting our daughter eight years ago and we started looking at options for decorating her nursery, I was struck by something I noticed at the local Christian bookstore. It had a little section devoted to religious nursery knick-knacks. (Also, one or two religious paddy-wacks may have been available.) Most of the nursery stuff fit within a certain theme: Noah’s ark.

Why Noah’s Ark? Because it’s a cuddly story, and the cute giraffes and fat hippos and fluffy sheep and stuff make it a favorite among kids, I guess. In fact, it’s such a cute Bible story it got a special section in my son’s preschool Bible, complete with a bearded cartoon Noah with a couple of doves on his shoulders and kittens on his feet. There may have even been a kangaroo. Back then, and still today, you could buy Noah’s ark toys and lamps and bookends and baby hats and onesies and quilts for your little one. It’s such a sweet story, we practically hit Christian babies over the head with it from the time they exit the womb.

How horrible will the day be when these kids actually read their Bibles and discover that Noah’s Ark is a story about God smiting EVERY SINGLE PERSON on the earth except for one righteous family? And about smiting EVERY SINGLE LIVING CREATURE on the earth except for those two-by-twos that wgot tickets for the ark? When did we decide that Noah’s Ark was a children’s story anyway? Answer: It was when we forgot that Noah’s ark is a story about death and drowning and worldwide apocalypse.

And that happened probably around the same time we Christians got concerned about the dangerous amounts of sex and violence in movies and TV shows, while conveniently ignoring the sex and violence in our Bibles.

There’s a Christian college in Iowa that’s trying to make us remember that our spiritual texts — which many view to be the “very words of God” for us — have some rough edges. Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, has been putting on a dramatic musical called “Terror Texts,” in which Goth-clad students recite and act out some of the most horrific stories in the Bible, accompanied by a rock band. Elisha sending a couple of she-bears to maul kids who made fun of his baldness? It’s in there. So is the story of Eglon, the obese king murdered by Ehud (whose 18 inch-long knife sunk so deep into the guy’s flesh that his fatness closed in around it). Plus a handful of other stories you probably didn’t hear about in Sunday School, but which are spoken verse-by-verse in the musical, in all their scary King James glory.

I say Good for them. We need to remember that the Bible is not a safe book. It’s not really a book for children. It’s a book that, to this day, still disturbs me. Its stories can be primitive and ugly and completely foreign to my 21st century experience.

But it’s so hard to remember that, because our tendency is to sanitize our religion behind a glossy sheen of purpose-driven piety and paintings of Jesus holding sheep.

That’s why:

1) I wrote a book introducing people to the Bible. Because Christians in particular and Westerners in general have no business not being intelligently informed about a book that has so much influence in our culture today. Secular culture, religious culture, all of it. Like Aslan, the Bible is not safe. Of course, its overall message — once you get to the New Testament — is good. But there’s a lot of worrisome stuff until you get there. When it comes to redemption, Jesus has a lot to work with.

2) I am suspicious of anyone claiming the Bible to be something as simplistic as “God’s rulebook for life” or “God’s recipe for living” or any other statement that indicates that they’ve got the Bible all figured out and you can, too. Here’s a tip: They probably don’t. At least, they’re ignoring a lot of stuff. I have come to the conclusion that, when it comes to the Bible, one of the greatest virtues is interpretive humility — the willingness to admit that you might be wrong about what you think it’s saying. Unless you are an expert in Greek or Hebrew — and, it should be noted, I am decidedly not — then I’m hesitant to trust you when you tell me “this is what the Word means.” I’m talking to you, televangelist. And you, overconfident young preacher. And you, bookstore guy trying to sell me Noah’s ark figurines.

3) You should be suspicious of me if, in Pocket Guide to the Bible, I came across as if I had the Bible figured out or was trying to tell you what it meant. I shouldn’t have. I’m pretty sure I just stuck to “this is what it says, and this is how some people interpret it.” But if I stepped over that line, my apologies. Humility. Humility. Humility.

OK, rant over. Back to thawing your turkeys.

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