It was in my senior year of high school that I began to lose my faith in Scripture.
Then, my first year of college I read the entire Bible, cover to cover, and that pretty much destroyed what confidence I had left.
The Bible, I discovered, was full of polygamy, incest, murder, rape, genocide, adulterers, inconsistencies, impossibilities, and a whole bunch of screwed-up people who never seemed to get anything right.
The more I studied the “perfect” word of God, the more I expected that doctrine would become clear and consistent, the authors exemplary, and the stories contain distinct and readily discernible meanings.
When I read, I found I had more questions than answers, concerns than affirmations, and was more likely to feel disrupted than tranquil.
I almost gave up entirely.
But with the help of some good teachers, I soon realized that since the Bible was full of polygamy, rape, genocide, adulterers, inconsistencies, impossibilities, and a whole bunch of screwed-up people who never seemed to get anything right, it was also fascinating.
I discovered that even though it seemed the doctrine wasn’t always clear and consistent, the authors weren’t exemplary, and the stories didn’t always contain distinct and easily discernible meanings, that is exactly what makes it such a rich foundational text for faith.
I found I had more questions than answers, concerns than affirmations, and disruptions than tranquility — and this was a good thing.
The same things that had caused my faith in Scripture to crumble helped rebuild it.
I had taken an icon intended to point to the Creator and turned it into an idol that fed back to me only what I expected to see; I had mistaken the indicator for the indicated and a divinely inspired document for the Divine itself.
What I had started to see as fatal flaws and defects became the most compelling, intriguing, and beautiful parts.
Here are three reasons I didn’t give up on the Good Book.
First, the character of the Divine is revealed throughout the entirety of Scripture. If one verse or story seems off, that doesn’t mean it’s ruined the whole picture. Spots that are confusing, inconsistent, or impossible are transformed when read with an understanding of the rest of Scripture, placed within its historical context and understood in conversation with 2,000 years of tradition. Some of the most troubling passages are now some of my favorites as they illuminate deeper themes, draw us into a mystery, or beautifully paint a picture of paradox.
Second, I started looking for companions in failure rather than just exemplars of success. The very real imperfections and doubts of the heroes of the Bible became a source of comfort and encouragement. Scripture doesn’t hide that many of the people lifted up in Hebrews 11 as examples of faith doubted, wrestled, and screwed up regularly. Their lives were considered faithful in their entirety but if you stopped and took a point-in-time analysis for any of them, it might not look the same. I love T.S. Elliot’s words in the Four Quartets:
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
Third, I learned some more humility. That verse from T.S. Elliot ends, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” There is always more to learn from scholars who have devoted their lives to understanding the book. It takes some humility to acknowledge that their always might be more for us to learn or understand that could change the way we understand God and the world around us. And in another sense, it also takes humility to still come to the Scriptures with the curiosity of a child and allow familiar texts to surprise us over and over.
That’s why both contributing a chapter for the new book Disquiet Time and now reading it has been a breath of fresh air. The wide variety of stories and interpretations spark your imagination as to all that is in the Bible. You don’t need to agree with every reading of Scripture that I or the other authors propose for Disquiet Time to renew your sense of curiosity, wonder, and humility about everything that is in that good, good book.
Timothy King is Chief Strategy Officer for Sojourners.