December 14, 2017

Another Look: The Bible — Rated “R”

Dirty_Rotten_Scoundrels

First posted in 2010.

Okay, so let’s get real about the Bible.

A lot of folks have a mistaken and inadequate understanding of what the Bible is like and what it contains.

I agree with author Frederick Buechner, who says:

When a minister reads out of the Bible, I am sure that at least nine times out of ten the people who happen to be listening at all hear not what is really being said but only what they expect to hear read. And I think that what most people expect to hear read from the Bible is an edifying story, an uplifting thought, a moral lesson — something elevating, obvious, and boring. So that is exactly what very often they do hear. Only that is too bad because if you really listen, there is no telling what you might hear.

He’s exactly right. Most of us have the idea that the Bible is a nice book for nice people about nice folks who said and did nice things, where everything leads to a nice and happy ending.

Take the first book in the Bible, the book of Genesis, for example. It’s likely that many people have Sunday School images in their minds when they think of Genesis — they picture God creating the world, Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden, Noah gathering cute little animals onto the ark and God putting a beautiful rainbow in the sky, Abraham and Sarah having a baby in their old age, and Joseph wearing his coat of many colors. Nice.

But here’s what’s in the real, unedited version:

  • Michael-Caine-and-Steve-Martin-michael-caine-2041109-445-318A man and woman stand in nakedness and shame, blaming each other for what they did wrong.
  • An angry and envious man, lures his brother into a field, brutally murders him, and then tries to cover it up.
  • The world becomes so corrupt and violent that God decides to virtually wipe out the human population and start over.
  • Noah gets drunk, and one of his son dishonors him by committing an immoral act in his father’s bedroom.
  • Abraham twice tries to pass his wife off to another man to save his own skin. Later, his son Isaac does the same thing.
  • Abraham sleeps with one of the household servants so he can have an heir. This was his wife’s idea, but she becomes so jealous after it happens, that she angrily throws the woman and her son out of house to live in poverty and shame.
  • Abraham’s nephew Lot offers to let a violent mob gang rape his daughters. Lot’s daughters later get their own father drunk and sleep with him so that they can have children.
  • Jacob, Isaac’s son, is a deceitful mama’s boy who tricks his father and brother out of important family legal rights. He has to run away from home so his brother won’t kill him.
  • He goes to work for his ruthless uncle, who keeps him in virtual slavery for decades. Jacob escapes by tricking him and running away.
  • Jacob’s wives live in constant jealousy and competition, continually tricking Jacob and each other in an ongoing battle for supremacy in the family.
  • Jacob’s sons loathe one of their brothers, sell him into slavery, then lie to their father and tell him he died.
  • Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped. Her brothers exact revenge by deceiving and then murdering the perpetrator, destroying and looting his city, and taking all his family members captive.
  • Judah refuses to find a husband for his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar. So she disguises herself as a prostitute, tricks her father-in-law into sleeping with her, and becomes pregnant.

And that’s just the first book in the Bible. Nothin’ but a cast of dirty, rotten scoundrels.

I had a pastor friend who once told me he was planning to do a family teaching series from Genesis. I’m afraid I wasn’t very kind. In fact, I laughed out loud and said, “What are you going to talk about, how to be a complete bum and still have God bless your family?”

He didn’t think it was funny. He had a overly pious view of the Bible that didn’t allow for the ugly stuff. However, that is what Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) is like! It should be rated “R” — raw, realistic, and in some instances, even repulsive. It couldn’t be further from “nice.”

However, there is this too: the Bible insists that, even in the midst of all the muck of human sin, brokenness, ugliness and strife, a God of grace is present and working to fulfill a plan and ultimately make something new and good. The Bible is also rated “R” because its main theme is “redemption,” a story of grace that reaches into the miry pit and pulls muddy sinners out, kicking and screaming.

In one of his lesser known plays, Eugene O’Neill wrote:

This is Daddy’s bedtime secret for today: Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue!

I encourage you to read the Bible for what it really is and says. It’s not very nice, but it’s real. And through it, God puts broken things back together.

It’s definitely a book for dirty, rotten scoundrels. Like me.

Comments

  1. Excellent.

    Isn’t it great that we can hear (read) the truth about ourselves?

    It isn’t often very pretty, but that is the first step towards being able to hear and believe the gospel.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Six words:
    R CRUMB’S ILLUSTRATED BOOK OF GENESIS.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      A great book, but he doesn’t over-emphasize the naughty parts or anything, like people might assume.

      Less artistically, there’s also the Brick Testament (it illustrates the Bible with Lego dioramas), which comes in Bowdlerized and non-Bowdlerized versions.

  3. Faulty O-Ring says:

    Comment deleted. Inappropriate.

  4. Joseph (the original) says:

    The Bible is also rated “R” because its main theme is “redemption,” a story of grace that reaches into the miry pit and pulls muddy sinners out, kicking and screaming.

    i can appreciate the “R” words that represent its central theme…

    Redemption is one…

    how about others???

    Reconciliation
    Restoration
    Recreation
    Renewal
    Rejuvenation
    Reformation
    Regeneration
    Rehabilitation
    Release
    Reincarnation
    Reintegration
    Rejoicing
    Reviving
    Relational
    Remedial
    Replenishing

    add others if the creative juices are flowing…

  5. And, of course, there is Onan.

  6. And it continues on into the New Testament. The Apostles were the most quarrelsome, thick-headed, stubborn pack of misfits one could have scraped from the bottom of the Galilean barrel – and the one apostle who *did* come from a decent Judean background sold his Master out for a handful of coin. The first full-time evangelist was also, despite being an exquisitely trained theologian, an ex-persecutor who also had a quarrelsome streak and a bit of a temper. They backbit and argued, jockeyed for position, talked back to Jesus Himself, and ran like rabbits when the chips were down. The first churches looked more like a reality TV show than a dry run of Little House on the Prairie.

    Lord, have mercy upon us.

    • Also, the religious people who did their best to follow God’s Law ended up being the ones to savagely bring to death God’s only Son, the Messiah.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Because REALITY is more like Jerry Springer than Little House on the Prarie.

  7. Yes, the Bible is raw and repulsive at times, and frightening, and not only in the way it depicts the gritty ugliness and evil of people. The parts that depict an angry God who orders the extermination of entire ethnic groups, men, women, and children, are the most frightening, ugly and morally troubling aspect of the entire Bible.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      I won’t disagree with you – like many ethicists, I find those parts of the OT to be the most troubling for any theology. I have to admit, I was fairly disappointed by what I would call an almost flippant approach by Copan in his book. But it is interesting to think about what this means for how the writers of the OT conceived of God, particularly in terms of his power and limitations.

    • Cedric Klein says:

      God kills every day, either actively or passively. You & I & everyone we know & love will have been killed at least with the tacit consent of God. When God decides to wipe out a depraved culture by Deluge, plague, or an invading army, it’s just a concentrated action of what He does all the time.

      • Sounds like the kind of thing I’d read in “The Moral Theology of the Devil”.

      • “God kills every day, either actively or passively. You & I & everyone we know & love will have been killed at least with the tacit consent of God. ”

        You know, on first pass, this kind of statement seems like one with which I am obliged to agree. Everybody dies. God, being God, apparently possesses some kind of power or potential power over it. So you’re only being logical, right? My lack of ability to grin while repeating the words must be mere sentimentality, or a product of my meager human perspective.

        On second pass though: no, just no. While I won’t dispute the prerogative of God to strike people down, nor will I deny the number of stories where that occurs, nor do I wish to make God into fluffy bunnies and ice cream, I also think when people talk in this vein, the character of God and God’s disposition toward humanity is being viewed through some other lens than the cross. (Or, if we wish to stay in the OT, the many contrary pictures there of God as merciful.) This is a mistake. The primary and central and final message God has presented declares God’s ultimate interest is in breaking the power of death. Presenting the face of God as the one who is going to kill us all seems one that ignore cross and resurrection.

        Practically speaking, the one frame of mind tells me to face death down stoically because all the terror I am facing is in some sense God’s hand and I had better accept it and disown my own sorrow about it. The other tells me that God is with my in that sorrow. I really have no idea how one can hold both thoughts at the same time.

        • David Cornwell says:

          Amen. Well said.

        • Agreed. Amen, and well said.

        • Point of clarification: I don’t really object to your language of “tacit consent.”

          However, if “what God does all the time” in “killing” is not categorically different in character or intent from the wiping out of entire populations of people and the destruction of an entire culture, this gives an extraordinarily dark hue God’s dealings with humanity,

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            We have not the Ring. … Without it we cannot by force defeat his force. But we must at all costs keep his Eye from his true peril. We cannot achieve victory by arms, but by arms we can give the Ring-bearer his only chance, frail though it be. …

            Before the coming of Christ, there was evil that needed to be defeated by the sword so that the deeper evil, the kind that cometh not out except by acseis [“prayer and fasting”] is accessible. The ethnic cleasning practiced in the Old Testament, if we allow our imaginations to run riot over the widowed women and orphaned children, seems barbaric and cruel to our fastidious modern sensibilities, but I think it likely that the slaughter of the Amelekites [which, had it been performed faithfully, would have rendered the Book of Esther unnecessary] was as close as you could get at striking at the true enemy, whom the Seed of the woman was to trample underfoot.

            One of the least fashionable things you can be in these days, when the world and the Church is fast turning into one large drawing-room for effetes and sophisticates, is a warrior. Even the word seems to embarrass us, as if the sweet reasonableness of the ecumenical management apparatus should be so manifest as to render the need for them obsolete. The way we treat our own young men when they return from the outposts of Empire, chewed up and spit out, is a national disgrace.

            Even though the fatal blow was delivered at the Cross, the enemy appears to have a lot of fight left in him. After all, the Germans didn’t just give up and turn into the Get Along Gang after Stalingrad or St Lô either.

          • Asinus, it’s not widowed women and orphaned children that bothers me most – it’s slaughtered women and slaughtered children. And it isn’t just modern sensibilities that are offended – these stories have bothered people for thousands of years.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            Comment deleted. Inappropriate.

          • Mule, when did you MRA types come up with “effetes” and “sophisticates” as the default description of people who are appalled by genocide. (Don’t tell me you’re still on yiur “heresy is worse than genocide” kick.)

            I think most of us find the slaughter of the innocent morally and ethically unacceptable. Funny, that guy who wrote about Herod’s massacre of toddlers and infants did, too.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

            Numo has good point. Wait – when Herod kills innocent children it is horrendous, but when the Israelites do so, it is A-ok, striking at the “true evil”? Bullshit.

        • “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb” john 11:38A

          The word “deeply moved” is better translated as “angry”. Jesus was angry at death and the pain it caused the people around Him.

        • Danielle – Yes, death is a harsh tool in God’s loving hands. It was God who condemned us to death in the Garden. It was also God who redeemed us from death at the cross. It will be God who one day puts Death to death at the Final Judgement. That is what the Bible teaches concerning death. The thought that death is a tool of God may be hard to swallow, but (the alternative) the thought that death is outside His control is even worse.

          • I’m not suggesting that God lacks power over death. However, to stay that God is in control or can kill is not quite the same thing as saying that death is nothing more than a “harsh tool in loving hands.”

            If death is nothing more than God’s tool or a direct expression of God’s purposes in the world, there is really no need for God to break its power, because there is no problem with it. If that were so, to say that “it is death that drives us to him,” would be like saying, “We are running from God to God.”

          • “If death is nothing more than God’s tool or a direct expression of God’s purposes in the world, there is really no need for God to break its power, because there is no problem with it.”

            That isn’t necessarily so. I have a friend who had to eject his son from his home because of destructive behavior that was harming the whole family. That harsh tool (ejection from the home) woke his son to the severity of his behavior and after a life change he was able to return to the home. Because of the life change the threat of the harsh tool could be permanently taken off the table as an option, never to be used again. There is a problem with harsh tools, but this imperfect world necessitates them, even if for a limited time.

        • Danielle – Paraphrasing Karl Barth: in the Cross God earned the right to be called God in his fallen world.

        • God’s disposition toward humanity is being viewed through some other lens than the cross

          Yes and no. The cross presupposes the fall and a curse. The tree of life is the antidote to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The idea is not so much that an omnipotent deity must at least concede to our deaths else he is actually limited. The whole concept of original sin and the fall is that God has decreed all men to be mortal on account of sin. God didn’t just allow our death: In some sense, he has caused it when he cursed the world. He appoints to every man a time to die, and makes exceptions for no one.

          God’s ultimate interest is in breaking the power of death.

          Yes. But, he overcomes death by passing through it, and he offers escape from it to no one. We can either embrace our death in the death of Christ, or cling to our own death in the rebellion of Adam. Either way, God is going to kill you. Or, you might say, call back the life he gave you, like a temporary assignment.

      • Amen, Cedric. It is death that drives us to Him. He defeated it on the cross and in the end he will do away with it completely.

  8. Have you read David Plotz’s “Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible”? I followed his blog on Slate as he went through his reading. It’s marvelous to read the take of someone who wasn’t schooled in the Old Testament to really delve into the stories.

  9. Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

    In all my reading of the Bible from boyhood until now, one thing never fails to astonish me – how little I understand about its basic message.

    For example, I tend to get my panties in a knot about sex and violence, and calculate my spiritual progress by how well I “toe the line” with respect to those two criteria. The authors of the Bible seem to be rather cavalier about both of them. If I go by a superficial reading of the Old Testament, what appears to get God’s boxers in a real twist is idolatry, the Old School kind where you make a statue out of something and kill animals in front of it.

    It appears that the Babylonian captivity beat idolatry out of the Jews hip and thigh. The post-exile material never mentions it, but concentrates on formalism and spiritual ennui. When we get to the New Testament, the focus is on belief and unbelief, with false teaching coming in far ahead of what we do with our rude bits as far as the amount of opprobrium delivered on the pages of Holy Writ.

    • We need this reminder, constantly. Thank you. To stay with the theme of the article, I will use edited bad language in my next comment: This is of much comfort to those of us that f**k up on a regular basis and have a tendency to run away from God on a regular basis because of it.

    • Rude bits? Is that a word for word translation from the Hebrew, or a dynamic equivalent?

    • Somehow, i don’t think a god who beats people up is any god worth following.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      I was listening to a speaker a couple days ago who said something along the lines of – “the prosperous obsess about sex and the poor obsess about food”. And I was struck by how well that matches much of the Old Testament narrative.

      Aside: by “poor” the speaker meant the destitute third-world kind of poor, not working-class American poor, which in the Old Testament would probably have been considered prosperous.

  10. I have said that for years…the Bible is R-rated. One time, this grandfather wanted to return the Children’s Bible he had bought for his granddaughter because it had the word ‘adultery’ in it. I was fine to return it, but I asked him where he would rather his daughter learn about adultery–from movies/TV or from the Bible? I then explained to him that the Bible is R-rated, and it’s great because we can teach from it into a world that is R-rated–including our own hearts.
    He kept the Bible.

  11. Key is the implied question: Does the Christian just wait for the minister or Bible study leader to read the Bible to the group, or does the group or individual actually read the Bible? Notice I did not say, Study the Bible, which has long been code for rehashing the same old, tired passages (Romans, Revelation, John, anyone?). Of course, it’s not that the passages are tired, it’s that the mostly propositional, inerrantist interpretations of them are washed out and often just plain wrong.

    I point to myself first and foremost as guilty of this, although in my defense I was taught that those tired, overworked passages were the theological heart of the whole Bible. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I began reading Scripture in large chunks that this became clear to me. In part, I was inspired by Craig Keener who for a time would read 40 chapters a day.

    • Here’s something I just recently read:
      “There is no magic in …the mechanical reading of the Bible. The written Word points to the Living Word and says to us, ‘go to Jesus.’ If we do not go to the Jesus to whom it points, we miss the whole purpose of Bible reading. We do not worship the Bible; we worship the Christ of the Bible. We love it only because we love him of whom it speaks” (John Stott)

  12. The Bible is a wonderful book! The common thread of the last few days about the Bible is that the book is from God. Of course, it kinda ends there. So many different thoughts, so many different traditions, so many different interpretations, yet we all all united in one faith. I’ve studied the Bible for almost 30 years now and I can truly say that I know what the book is about, but I still don’t know it. It’s a paradox, but its true. It’s amazing to me that so many are so didactic when they teach it. Truly the phrase, “the Bible clearly says” should probably not be used so often. At lease nut without a large dose of humility and contriteness. Sadly, I don’t know a lot of Bible teachers who exhibit those two qualities.

  13. “Mother? Not Mother?” Steve ‘Ruprecht’ Martin – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
    Amen to this post. We are hog tied and eviscerated by our preconceived notions. Squirming out of those, despite our brothers and sisters and mostly ourselves, is one of the arts of living grace-fully and finding meaning that we ourselves can abide by. Sometimes as we know, in the most dire of situations, it is the ability to see something slightly differently or to hear a word like we haven’t heard it before that becomes our complete salvation. Our “Aha” awaits us at every turn if we are willing to let go. Slow, quiet contemplation, ie. Thomas Merton and the like, is what I drop into the suggestion box as a sure start to begin seeing scripture in a raw, unvarnished way. Chewing the cud. Mulling over one word or verse for days or weeks with imagination and openness of heart. Sometimes it requires tremendous work to get through those old notions. Unless we become as children… for whom everything is new and unvarnished.

  14. We are just Victorian to the core these days. Ezekiel 23:20 as a “life verse.” Try preaching the alleged “whole counsel of God” in a typical, suburban middle/upper middle class parish. Bzzzzt…thanks for playing, next victim please. Tell us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear. Scratch our itching ears w/ societal calamity, huh? As one who swings heavily from the confessional Reformed side of the fence, there’s an awful lot of prophecy that’s “forth telling” rather than “foretelling” AND directed to the covenant community. That means us. You know, the “called out ones’? And all we’re doing is sticking fingers in our ears and blabbering over what is being spoken directly to us. Go figure…

    • Patrick Kyle says:

      Ahh… Ezekiel 23:20 The verse NEVER preached… Actually that whole section of Ezekiel is pretty crude. Twice in my life I have read the Bible cover to cover, straight through. It will strip you of any phony piety. Another benefit is seeing the OT on every page of the NT. I get a kick out of ‘scholars’ that make an issue of the supposed ‘disconnect’ between the OT and NT, saying that the God of the OT is different from the God of the NT. If you have ever read the Bible cover to cover, you know these guys haven’t done the same.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        I would so like to see someone do a “Bannerman” with a sign that reads “EZEKIEL 23:20” instead of the usual “JOHN 3:16″…

    • David Emme says:

      Comment deleted. Inappropriate.

  15. Of course this leads to the biblical definition of traditional marriage, as presented by Betty Bowers:

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OFkeKKszXTw

  16. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    FYI, here’s the original posting and comment thread from 2010:
    http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/the-bible-rated-r

  17. David Emme says:

    I guess I never really read the bible-wait a minute-I remember reading about all those things, asking questions about them, studying them, hearing sermons in my church about them. Here is what is so frustrating-assumptions made about everyone because you think that is the way things are. Great job slandering and sliming the bible and those who read it. Perception is reality-but perception is not necessarily the truth. Might not be the right format-but I try quoting what I am referring to down below.

    He’s exactly right. Most of us have the idea that the Bible is a nice book for nice people about nice folks who said and did nice things, where everything leads to a nice and happy ending.

    Take the first book in the Bible, the book of Genesis, for example. It’s likely that many people have Sunday School images in their minds when they think of Genesis — they picture God creating the world, Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden, Noah gathering cute little animals onto the ark and God putting a beautiful rainbow in the sky, Abraham and Sarah having a baby in their old age, and Joseph wearing his coat of many colors. Nice.

    But here’s what’s in the real, unedited version:
    ?Michael-Caine-and-Steve-Martin-michael-caine-2041109-445-318A man and woman stand in nakedness and shame, blaming each other for what they did wrong.
    ?An angry and envious man, lures his brother into a field, brutally murders him, and then tries to cover it up.
    ?The world becomes so corrupt and violent that God decides to virtually wipe out the human population and start over.
    ?Noah gets drunk, and one of his son dishonors him by committing an immoral act in his father’s bedroom.
    ?Abraham twice tries to pass his wife off to another man to save his own skin. Later, his son Isaac does the same thing.
    ?Abraham sleeps with one of the household servants so he can have an heir. This was his wife’s idea, but she becomes so jealous after it happens, that she angrily throws the woman and her son out of house to live in poverty and shame.
    ?Abraham’s nephew Lot offers to let a violent mob gang rape his daughters. Lot’s daughters later get their own father drunk and sleep with him so that they can have children.
    ?Jacob, Isaac’s son, is a deceitful mama’s boy who tricks his father and brother out of important family legal rights. He has to run away from home so his brother won’t kill him.
    ?He goes to work for his ruthless uncle, who keeps him in virtual slavery for decades. Jacob escapes by tricking him and running away.
    ?Jacob’s wives live in constant jealousy and competition, continually tricking Jacob and each other in an ongoing battle for supremacy in the family.
    ?Jacob’s sons loathe one of their brothers, sell him into slavery, then lie to their father and tell him he died.
    ?Jacob’s daughter Dinah is raped. Her brothers exact revenge by deceiving and then murdering the perpetrator, destroying and looting his city, and taking all his family members captive.
    ?Judah refuses to find a husband for his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar. So she disguises herself as a prostitute, tricks her father-in-law into sleeping with her, and becomes pregnant.