Jesus Creed

The following letter and my response are posted here with permission. Please sit down because this is real stuff — stuff out of a heart spiritually abused. I know from other letters that she is not alone, and we pray others can find hope through this kind of exchange. [I’m having a difficult time with this text this morning in getting it to appear properly. Sorry.]

dear scott,
i’m wondering how you, with all of the interpretations and reinterpretations of the bible, keep reading it at all. i’m only asking this because i think i have all but given up on the bible. i used to hold onto it dearly but i also used to use it as a rule book. reading it did not create in me a loving relational person. lately, i have tried to begin looking at it as a love letter or a story of love or something like that, but the rules and the inconsistencies seem to keep coming up and distracting me. as i read your blog i am saddened by how many different perspectives there are on what the bible was really trying to say. this may be because i’m not strong enough yet to have my own opinion, but it also triggers all the years i thought i knew what the bible meant and tortured myself into submission to abusive parents for so many years. every morning my dad would make us read the bible verse by verse, while in the evenings i was beat with an extension chord in the name of scripture. “spare the rod spoil the child.” my biggest question is how can someone both be loving and really like the bible. it seems i’ve learned more about love from other religions or nature or atheists even. you seem to be both loving (gentle, kind, patient ect) and into the bible. i admit that there is something about the bible that i don’t want to give up on, which is probably why i end up reading your blog again and again. so i had to ask, how do you do it? how do you continually look at the whole bible, read all the theologians, listen to all the arguments over what something means and end up still seeing God (look i used a cap) as love? maybe some of your blog entries answer this question and you could just point me there.
sincerely, Name withheld

Dear [Name],
I’m glad you have written to me, and are seeking after God in spite of your experience.
You’ve asked some very serious questions here, the kind I don’t often get from my blog, but I want to respond as best as I can (at this hour).
First, I want to say that I feel really bad about what you say about your past. It is simply impossible to connect the Bible and violence and come away thinking the God of the Bible is a loving, compassionate, merciful, relational Father. If I could say anything to you it would be this: what you have heard about the God of the Bible is not true. I’m truly sorry your father beat you.
Second, here is something deep to think through when you have time: what brings life the most joy and the deepest satisfaction (which is what joy really is) is love in relationship with another. Where, we have to ask, does such a satisfaction and such a love come from? Everything about you and me, and all other humans, witnesses that our deepest yearning is to love and to be loved in relationship. Even when we fail at it, even when we try and it wounds and hurts, we still long for it because we know, somehow and very deep, that this love in relationship really gives life meaning. (Think of that movie with Tom Hanks and the volleyball, Wilson; Tom simply couldn’t live on that island without someone to relate to. I stole this illustration from our sermon tonight.)
Third, this means that the God who speaks to us through the Bible (God is not the Bible — it is a big mistake to equate God with the Bible) is the God who stands behind the love we yearn for and that we enjoy in relationship. (Maybe this isn’t as clear as it could be during an earlier part of the day — but, the yearning for love witnesses to Someone who made us, and that means that God loves, is love, and opens the door to us to love God and others.)
Fourth, by and large — though not always and you can tell that I get a bit snappy when I sense this isn’t the case — my readers and commenters have views within a large perspective: to know God, to love God, and to learn about God through the Bible. We differ on lots of issues, which is the way we learn from one another, but we agree on the big picture: God loves us, God calls us to love him and others, and we are trying to work that out as we discuss these things with one another. I think you have to agree it is a fun community (this blog) to be a part of.
My final point is very important: look at Jesus over and over. For the time being, you may have to drop debates about women and about Calvinism, and you may have to drop the OT laws as well for awhile until a more suitable time. But, whatever you do, sit down with the Gospel of Mark or John and just watch Jesus move and talk and relate and go about his business and you will see why it is that Kris and I keep going back. He’s inestimable. That’s what you find when you open yourself up to him as he makes himself known through the Gospels. I don’t know if you have read my Jesus Creed, but what helps me the most to keep this in view is what I say in that book: every morning, every evening, and every time I think of it in between, to say the Jesus Creed: “Hear O Israel… Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself.” Saying this reminds me over and over that my life is a life to be shaped by loving God and loving others. I can say firsthand that it has helped me. Maybe it can help you, too.
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