November 23, 2014

The Bible: Rated “R”

Today’s post is from Chaplain Mike.

Ok. 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:

  • A 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.

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 and mire of the reality 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.

Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this. Your timing, at least for me, is perfect. Just tonight I mentioned the R rating that is appropriate for parts of the Bible, in particular the Song of Solomon. When we try to pretty up the text over what it actually says, we’re saying we know better than what the biblical writers, and by extension God Himself, ought to have said. And though this may sound odd, the list you give above is actually why I came to believe the Bible to be true. As I read through the narrative of the various heroes as well as the villains throughout the Bible, I recognized intuitively the same impulses that exist in me. The self attestation of many of the writers is painfully transparent. I saw in that an honesty that I could respect. So if they were truthful about their own failings or the failings of their national heroes, then I’m willing to listen more closely to what they have to say about their God. This God works with real people, people broken by others and people who just as easily break others unjustly. This God doesn’t hide the faults and present cardboard cutouts of heroes far removed from normal human experience. This is a God who works with and reworks those, like me, who are born broken, are still broken, and in daily need of healing and rehealing. This is a God I can worship, because this is a God who reaches into a real world, and thus His salvation is a real salvation. We need nothing more and can never settle for anything less.

    • That was an inspired response. Thanks for sharing.

    • you wrote what i have on my mind =) so true, they are real people like us but Jehovah God is willing to forgive and these are examples set for us so that we dont always have to “learn from our own experience” but to learn “from other’s experience”.

  2. How about Esther? She’s part a of a harem. Its not the sanitized Cinderella tale that kids learn in sunday school.

  3. Another rated “R” theme is that most people are going to hell forever (many even within the Church). Does it bother you that I rejoice when I know that people like Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot will be roasting in hell? I rejoice knowing that God will cast sin, corruption, depravity, and brokenness into hell forever (with all the people along with it) and that his justice will be vindicated forever; I am also saddened that many people will go there forever (many of whom have no clue that a place like hell exists). You’re right the Bible is a “R” rated book, it is a book that contains the most horrific horror story to tell (read the latter parts of Revelation). However, I rejoice knowing that at least 1% of the total human population will be saved through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.

    • Mark – as many as 1%? Universalist!

    • Quixotequest says:

      I agree that we shouldn’t diminish that hell/sheol/gehenna’s destruction is real.

      What’s I see is the real “rated-R” scandal is that God, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, shows His trustworthiness to redeem every person who will have a heart to receive Him when needed. It’s His work of redemption. While He asks us believers to be involved in His work, it’s also a kick in the teeth of the self-sufficient ideal in that He also says, “Serve Me obediently and love your fellow humans. But this isn’t your deal. It’s mine.”

      He doesn’t ask us to spend one moment judging the percentage of humanity or even one heart of another person who is going to hell. We get our own personal faith commitment to steward. Many of us believers get to be shepherds, to some level or another, but none of us is Judge. Therefore, He may or may not use me or you to reach those who will be saved. He may or may not use some extension of a church or ministry or denominational program. He may or may not even use His Bible. At least that’s what I see within the messy narrative of the New Testament.

    • “However, I rejoice knowing that at least 1% of the total human population will be saved through the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

      If God knew that 99% would burn in Hell, why did he tell us to go ahead and have lots of kids and be fruitful and multiply? If so many are going to Hell, then having kids is a reckless and irresponsible gamble.

      The Shakers would have to be the only denomination that saw this correctly since they forbade sex and reproduction.

      The bible verses about Hell go totally against the human instinct to reproduce. Having kids is good. So I have to assume that the bible’s verses about hell are wrong. I have to believe that some malicious sicko wrote them. If Hell is real then God would have told us not to reproduce, but instead he told us to have lots of babies.

      • Quixotequest says:

        Tim, I think I agree with part of your instinct.

        Personally, I see the main thrust of the Bible, and especially the N.T. on this topic as pointing to that whatever destruction awaits the rebellious that it supports more of an annihilationist perspective than one of eternal conscious torment.

        But I also think it is wise not to assume that if humans have the possibility of an afterlife existence that they are entitled to that existence — that it is our intrinsic nature to exist forever. Life itself is a blessing. Each day can be counted in several ways: as a blessing to His glory, as wonderful and terrible experience apart from a belief in God, one more day of laughing in the face of (or embracing perhaps) existential angst. Or whatever. But life can be celebrated on its own merits. We still will propagate, and find both joy and sadness in the process, even if our existence is nothing more than a random cosmic blunder.

        However God chooses to separate sheep from goats doesn’t relegate the joys of life, family and participating in the human experience to naught.

        But it’s my hope that more humans will have a heart for God than don’t, and I trust that God will reach every one of them who has such a heart in His timing. I still struggle with right belief about hell. I think I should never be comfortable with how I feel on that topic. But I don’t want to allow myself to completely mark them off as ravings of ‘malicious sickos’ either.

    • Mark,

      Maybe you need to read the Bible for what it says and you won’t believe that hell is a place where people roast on an open rotisserie like so many chickens at Costco for ever and ever. It’s eternal death my friend. God destroys both soul and body,. Doesn’t sound like life to me. If eternal life is life, eternal death is death. Not life over on open flame. Think about it.

      tim

    • Maybe one percent is aiming a bit low. In Rev. chapter seven, John saw a multitude that no-one could count from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping and praising before God’s throne — and then in chapter nine John shows that he could count to at least 200 million. Maybe I’m over-optimistic, but I’m guessing that uncountable multitude — the ultimate harvest of God’s redemptive work — will be numbered in the billions.

    • David Cornwell says:

      I fail to see any reason to speculate about this at all. We know very little about the hearts, minds, and souls of anyone else. And even in all our supposed wisdom we know very little about who will stand where in God’s final judgement. This is God’s work and not ours.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Actually it is pretty far off the subject, so I probably should simply have withheld comment.

    • This probably could upset people, but belief in God’s grace necessitates that at least Hitler could be in heaven. He was baptized, and we don’t know of his faith at his death. Just sayin’…God’s mercy is far greater than any misdeed we could commit.

      • And just to qualify, I don’t THINK he is, but my point is that nobody knows these things but God, and it’s unsafe territory to speculate thereon.

  4. Good post. I love the “raw-ness” of Scripture. And we need to recapture the wild and unpredictable nature of Scripture in our preaching and teaching. Youth especially appreciate when we unpack some of the more sketchy stories.

    For example, this past Sunday I was teaching from Acts and Paul’s ministry in Thessalonika and pointed out: “Note that when Christians came to town in the early days angry mobs were formed and rioting in the streets resulted with onlookers declaring, “These people have turned the world upside down, defying Caesar’s decrees and proclaiming another king named Jesus” (Acts 17).

    Whatever we say about Christianity, it should NEVER become boring!

  5. Perhaps the nicest picture painted of all is in Ezekiel 16 when God speaks of Jerusalem being the product of pagan fornication that is discarded as a bloody abortion with the cord still attached, and who grew up to be such a desperate whore that she had to pay johns to lie with her, before being stoned and sliced up with a sword by an angry mob. Not for the faint of heart. Or is it?

    John Brandkamp’s testimony above is something to be considered as to how the truth can set us free. Does any other religious book speak about its heroes the way the bible does?

    • “Does any other religious book speak about its heroes the way the bible does?”

      I don’t think so and that’s one of the things that to me gives the “ring of truth” to Bible stories. So many extra-biblical books even within the Christian tradition paint their heroes as transcendently perfect saints who really get tiresome after awhile—they become caricatures rather than real people. The Bible tells it like it is, warts and all.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        You might take a look at the stories the ancient Greeks told about their gods.

        • Yeah, some of those are pretty messed up. But their gods weren’t meant to be a picture of perfection to be emulated, but rather an attempt to show how gods are like us after all.

          • Quixotequest says:

            Tales of flawed heroes are definitely not unique to the Bible. In particular to the Greco-Roman myths: Perhaps more than showing us that the gods are like us, they were meant to teach how man is ultimately more noble than the gods. That perspective is ultimately reflected in the Platonist notion that humanity is most noble when free apart from the capricious trappings of material reality. That nobility is discovered by the enlightened few rather than granted to those who don’t deserve– yet trust. In Christian flavors it was a Gnostic reality.

            The core Christian narrative is one of God descending Himself to raise human creation to a more redeemed reflection of His glory, and that it is a hope for a spiritual and material reality conjoined. I see the dysfunctional Bible showing us that there is no goodness apart from God. In fact, goodness is never individual even when granted by God. It is a goodness that is ultimately communal and relational–and the intent is that as many will partake of it as possible. It portrays a humanity that has no fundamental spiritual nature or existence that it earns on its own merits. Yet in that dysfunction there is the reflection of the divine creative potential to which God would condescend.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Yeah. The only gods of that pantheon I’d feel anything like safe around would be Athena (who acted the most grown-up of all Zeus’s offspring) and the Roman god Sylvanus (god of tamed and controlled nature).

      • Well, perhaps Judaic interpretations does the same also, in regarding the flaws and warts of biblical characters.

        One thing is for sure though, Islam definitely does not portray such a fallen and disgraceful depiction of its prophets. Not just Muhammad, but Abraham and David too.

  6. Great post, Chaplain Mike. Truly perceptive.

    One of the most fascinating Bible stories to me, which you indeed mention, is that very soon after God’s cleansing flood, which wipes out humankind except for God’s favored Noah and his family, NOAH GETS DRUNK AND ONE OF HIS SONS DISHONORS HIM!!!! This is the same Noah who is described as a “righteous man,” “blameless in his time,” and one who “walked with God.”I can just envision God up there, looking down on Noah, shaking his head. (As I’m sure He does with me much of the time, too.)

    • “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”

      I don’t think he shakes his head at us at all.

  7. My personal favourite is Hosea whose rocky marriage becomes a public embarassment when he insists on giving his children names which mark how low things have got – Decision time, Not loved and Not one of mine.. and then rounds on his critics with what to me is one of the finest and most offensive pieces of theology in the Bible – don’t blame me even God has got marital problems. Pure genius – which would still get him slung out of most churches today.

  8. This is so good Chaplain Mike, the bible and the gospel is shocking and should be so. I should be shocked as my own darkness is revealed and surprised when God is good to people such as me.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    Has anyone seen or read “The Book of Genesis” Illustrated by R. Crumb? I have read several extensive reviews plus several pages from the book itself. It includes every word from Genesis and the illustrations are amazing. I plan to get a copy for myself and for my 16 year old grandson who loves comics and these type of illustrations. He has had a tendency to consider the bible a bit wimpy. This might change his mind.

    • David,

      I just got it from the library, and it wisely recommends that minors be supervised when reading it. Several graphic cells are: Rebecca soothing Isaac after the death of Sarah; Tamar changing clothes; the scenes with Joseph and Potipher’s wife.

      The illustrator does have a sense of humor; like God appearing to toss the sun and moon into place, peradyctalys flying on the day winged creatures were made.

      • David Cornwell says:

        Anna,

        I appreciate the warnings, but the teens I know today, even good ones, know just about everything. They talk about things that would have made me turn red at 16. They find what they want on the internet, even if you try to prevent it. Watch any television show or movie or even commercial (these days) and nothing is left to the imagination. I know some of these teens and love them. But I am now retired and living in a farming community. Some of these kids’ language is really meant for the barn yard. They learn about sex from an early age, if like my grandson, they live on a dairy farm. It cannot be hidden! His parents speak frank, to the point language to him about sexuality and decisions and responsibilities regarding it.

        And for some reason he and I have a great relationship.

        Of course younger kids should be supervised. I’ll buy one copy and read it myself. I may ask his mom what she thinks about it before I give it to him. I wouldn’t pass it out in Sunday School!

        If anyone thinks I’m on the wrong track on this, let me know.

        I’m glad you went and got a copy. I’ve been interested in the reactions of others.

        I really appreciate this blog and the diversity of opinion.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Anna, “the illustrator” was R Crumb, one of THE big names in the Sixties underground comix movement. The guy was a master in his (very bizarre) field.

  10. Yes! Finally, someone who sees this. If people like Lot can be called righteous (as he is in Peter’s second epistle), there is hope for us all.

    It makes me wonder, though. Perhaps God is not just the kind, gentle, passive Father who coddles little children on His lap (which to me is perverted). I see God as a mature father-figure , someone who expect us to grow up and learn how to live in this dangerous, wild world He created. Being overgrown children (especially men) is not honoring to God, in my opinion.

    I close with the wonderful piece of poetry:

    O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who replays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” – Psalm 137:9 ESV

    Family-oriented!

    • David Cornwell says:

      Exactly!

    • Quixotequest says:

      Precisely. Lot is not righteous because of what he does or does not do. He’s righteous if his loyalty is outside of himself, and resting in God.

      It’s a completely messy-looking counterpoint to a seemingly more neat individual-centered world-view where each person is fancied ultimately “good enough” to choose exactly what is altruistic enough to make themselves right enough with some external (but ultimately completely internal) standard of goodness. And where we come up short there is some Karmic force of one definition or another that settles scores and balances scales in such a way that we’d agree with it were we as objective as we pretend we can be.

      Instead the Bible teaches of a God who is set to redeem His messed-up-yet-beautiful creation to His glory. And even if we could be objective enough, He doesn’t depend on our objectivity to valuate whether His redemptive plan is successful or not. He gets to call the shots. Meanwhile we are asked to trust Him. And, if we desire, we can mull over the koan of what really the “good fruit” of being grafted onto the good vine looks like when those who are credited righteous in Him still externally have screwed up “fruit,” to some degree or another, according to what seems to be the moral and ethical standard of His commandments.

      Meanwhile, the World will gnash over how inconsistent and dictatorial Yahweh’s plan is and how inconsistent the behavior of God’s children are. But if the World is right, its God is harsher than Yahweh. It promises an ultimate and irreconcilable death for all.

    • As God is both Mercy and Justice I think He can be both kind and gentle as well as demanding and exacting, depending on the situation. As far greater thinkers than I have said: Christianity is a religion of paradoxes.

      So just as God is both Mercy and Justice, He can ask us to have child-like faith with an adult-like maturity.

      Nice Psalm choice!

  11. Along the same line of thought as this post, I recently heard a talk given by Leonard Sweet about the “apples and oranges” of scripture reading. We want reading scripture to be like eating an orange – unpackaged and served to us in nice individual, easy to handle, bite sized portions – when really, reading scripture should be like eating an apple – messy business, with juice dripping down our chin, takings bites here and there but knowing that it is the apple as a whole that is being consumed. I thought it was a helpful analogy.

  12. The world becomes so corrupt and violent that God decides to virtually wipe out the human population and start over.

    What recently struck me about the flood story is that God for no apparent reason also decides to destroy all the animals, too. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justice? It was man’s wickedness that grieved/distressed God. It was man’s heart that was continually evil. As we know from the Exodus account, God could send a plague that could selectively kill livestock but not other animals, and He could even single out just the firstborn for death. So why couldn’t He have killed the evil humans while sparing the animals? What did the poor animals do to deserve wholesale and indiscriminate drowning?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    So much for the happy and colorful children’s tale of Noah and his merry zoo floating in a boat. :?

    • Maybe just like we “corrupt” cows and create mad cow disease by turning herbivores into cannibals or just like we “corrupt” dogs by breeding and training them into vicious fighting animals, perhaps the antediluvians had corrupted the animal world to such an extent that a clean slate was needed.

    • It was part of man’s judgment that the animals went with them. It was God’s way of saying that we are part of this world, and what we do effects the rest of it too. We don’t live in a vacuum. We were given dominion over the earth, we are responsible for the earth and the animals. We failed they went too.

      • But why? Nowhere does the Scripture explain why the animals and birds had to die in the flood. While God says in Genesis 6:7 that He was sorry that He had made them – and the “them” likely refers to all that He lists there, i.e., man and animals, etc. – He still gives no explanation for why the animals have to drown. Only man is described as having wickedness and continually intending evil.

        And the fact that God tells Noah to take a pair or seven pairs of animals into the ark indicates that animals per se weren’t “corrupt.” He was not told to take only those without mad cow disease, etc.

        Sorry. Those explanations don’t make sense.

        • Ah, but the text says the animals came to Noah, he didn’t go get them. (Genesis 7:8) Hence God chose the animals to be saved, and could have easily weeded out the ones He didn’t want. Not saying that’s what happened, but it is at least plausible.

        • EricW,
          That is just it the innocent suffer for our transgressions. That is the point. We have dominion, when we fail we fail them.

  13. David K. Monroe says:

    This sort of article always kind of irritates me because I can’t imagine what kind of a person would call themselves a Christian and NOT understand that the Bible is not a “nice book about nice people who do and say nice things.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon or a teaching session that didn’t point out how badly biblical figures screwed up things if it was at all germane to the text. More often I find that it is people who are decidedly not religious who are scandalized by the contents of the Bible and think it somehow bizarre that a book with so much sex and violence in it is the foundation of a religion that commands its adherents not to indulge in sex and violence. As if biblical religion was supposed to be content-driven and not doctrine-driven.

    I’m not trying to be a pest and rag on the author, I just don’t know who these Christians who aren’t familiar with the Bible’s gritty side are or where they come from.

    • I don’t think it’s a matter of most christians not knowing that there is a gritty side to the Bible. It’s more of a mis-perception of what kind of book the Bible is. We tend to think that the gritty side is there primarily to demonstrate the “before and after” of an encounter with God. Like King David – sure he had an illicit affair and murdered his mistresses husband, but ultimately he was a man after God’s own heart…happy ending! And it is. But there are many more stories where God works in the middle of our muck and there is no indication that things worked out the way we would have expected God to work them out. God worked, and we’re still left with the muck. I think this is where many christians become uncomfortable because the Bible is supposed to be a book about God changing people, and making bad situations into happy endings. Just my thoughts…

      • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

        Yes, King David’s happy ending: he’s so old that he can’t even have sex with a with a hot young thing. He gives Solomon two major things to do after he dies: obey God, and kill off several of David’s enemies.

        And the phrase “a man after God’s own heart” doesn’t meant what we think it means. Uhg.

        • Calm down…I was just trying to make a point about how we like to read the ugly side of scripture. David did really bad things, but in the end he was right with God…that’s how we like the story to end.

          • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

            Actually, I thought I was agreeing with you, and we were both poking fun at the ‘shiny happy Christian’ reading of David. Couldn’t you tell from my facial expression? [The joys of communicating over the internet…]

            David had many, many faults, but in the end, in an age of idolatry, he was loyal to Yhwh, to the very last. Instead of seeing him as deeply flawed man with a tenacious loyalty to God, we have to mythologize him into something he’s not.

          • Yes, I posted hastily after reading your post the first time. After I re-read it I understood what you were saying. Sorry!

        • David K. Monroe says:

          Jonathan,

          As a matter of academic curiosity, what does the phrase, ” a man after God’s own heart” mean? I Goggled it and found only predictable responses.

          • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

            My Hebrew prof told us that the phrase “something after x’s own heart” means “x really wants something.” Apparently it was used in other contexts like “that’s a chariot after my own heart.” It’s about God’s choice of David, not David’s love of God.

            I can’t back this up with a reference. I bet I could email her about it, if you need one.

        • David K. Monroe says:

          Jonathan,

          As a matter of academic curiosity, what does the phrase, ” a man after God’s own heart” mean? I Goggled it and found only predictable responses.

        • David K. Monroe says:

          Jonathan,

          As a matter of academic curiosity, what does the phrase, ” a man after God’s own heart” mean? I Goggled it and found only predictable responses

          • David:

            It means that your comments post three times – i.e., once for the Father, once for the Son, and once for the Holy Spirit. This is the evidence that you are a man after God’s own heart. :)

      • perceptive point. gotta have a “testimony”

      • Quixotequest says:

        Right on, Clay. Well said. I think the kind of perspective you mention is one form or another of the fruit of the Prosperity Gospel: We expect God’s narrative is a story of how God serves up a meal of a better life gets for those who pay the menu price to trust in Him. It’s really the same old magical relationship that has fueled most of humanity’s history at using religion to try to appease God(s) and get good weather and crops in return.

        It’s more risky and scary to emphasize the Suffering Gospel for which God himself died: life for a Believer might be rosy, and they might not, because God will not cause nor control every persecution, malady, predicament or tribulation — nor even every good turn, or every good fortune. He only seems to promise that, through that whole process of ups and downs, as He is glorified, we also will be redeemed, sanctified, have a trustworthy relationship that won’t falter, and ultimately be blessed to be crowned in a measure of glory, too.

  14. Funny you should mention the story of Tamar – – I was recently reading Ruth 4, where the elders bless the marriage of Boaz and Ruth: “Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord shall give you by this young woman”.

    Wow, would you really want that toast at your wedding? Maybe yes, if you believe God can redeem your most difficult of situations.

    • Tamar is also mentioned at Matthew 1:3. That house continues on to Jesus.

      One of my professor’s pointed out that all the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus have dubious sexual history: Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba … and then Mary. And that was the point of including the other four.

      • I’ve never understood this business about the supposed genealogy of Jesus. Isn’t Jesus fathered by God? Who cares about Joseph’s ancestry? Does anyone know about Mary’s?

  15. I am enamored by the fact that Jesus’ earthly lineage runs directly through that line of hookers, drunks, foreigners, perverts, cheats, losers and thieves. Huh, kinda like my family. Wasn’t there a song, “What if God was one of us?” Mayhaps he was?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Well, they say you can’t go two generations back in ANYBODY’s genealogy without encountering something you wish you could keep hidden. Even if said crazy relatives can be lots of fun at parties…

      “You can pick your friends; you can’t pick your relatives.” — Jimmy Carter during “Billygate”

      “What if God was One of Us”? Isn’t that the whole point of the Incarnation?

  16. It is exactly because of all this R rated stuff that I have always found certain Christian prudishness about movies and other media to be very, very, stupid. Cursing, violence, sexuality etc all make us a “bad witness” or pollute our spirits or something. Yet it is clear that the Bible itself would not pass the approval of many of those self-appointed Christian censors.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      This same point has been made by many others in the past, and will be made by still others in the future.

      SNL’s Church Lady is funny for a reason, and in lots of churches (and the entire Christian publishing industry), the Church Ladies call all the shots. They’ve been trying to declaw and castrate Aslan of Narnia into their pet kitty for a LONG time (even knowing that’s a good way to wind up like the White Witch)…

    • i used to teach a grade 6 sunday school class. i decided to give the kids a bible reading assignment. over 12 weeks, they had specific passages to read, and their parents had to initial a sheet saying the kids had, indeed, read it (can you tell i knew some of the kids pretty well? lol). and ok, i bribed them and told them they’d get a prize if they did, whch is what sunday school teachers do. with one minor difference:

      the boys read Judges. and i mean, the whole book. they read about ehud, who smuggled a weapon into the king’s palace, interrupted the king while he was on the toilet, and ran a sword through the guy’s stomach before jumping out the window. they read about jael, who hammered a tent peg through a man’s skull and was then celebrated by deborah, the leader of the people. they read about the levite who chopped his concubine into a dozen pieces and sent one piece to each tribe. i could go on, but you get the idea.

      only one set of parents appreciated this assignment.

      for the girls, i made a different assignment. knowing that too often, girls are told only of the men in the bible, and only at christmas is there a woman in the spotlight (and even then, it’s just her uterus, not really her as a whole), i wanted the girls to see that women are just as valuable to God as men, and that women as expected to be exactly who they are. sure, meek and mild like elizabeth, generous and kind like tabitha, loyal like ruth… you know, good christian girls. ;) but…. i also included esther, who was part of a harem and stood up to the king and saved her people. pricilla, who is always named before her husband and did most of the teaching. deborah, who led the israelites and celebrated jael who murdered a king. miriam, who danced!! (sorry, i was raised baptist. LOL) zelophehad’s daughters, who stood up for women’s rights and as a result, God changed the rules to be more fair to women.

      you can imagine, these assignments weren’t overly popular with the mennonite parents in the class, especially, ironically, the girls’ assignment, which was definitely the tamer of the two. it saddened me a bit…. but on the other hand…. the kids loved it. :)

  17. Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

    What’s sad too is how the translations of the scriptures themselves try to clean up bad language. My Hebrew professor used to go on rants that the scriptures were translated for Victorian maidens, not real people to read.

    It’s almost like we read the scriptures through the fairy tales of our youth, and expect the Bible to conform to them.

  18. Thanks for the great post. This is something I’ve known for a long time, and integrated into the little teaching I have done, but it is so refreshiing to hear it articulated publicly. And Beuchner’s writing has been really helpful to me as well. I think one of my Old Testament seminary professers put it best. He said that none of the patriarchs were really heroes and that the only real hero of the Old Testament is God. Very true.

    I read through the pentateuch last year with all of its rollicking stories of famiily dysfunction and strife and deceit, but through it all the overwhelming summary message that struck me was that the text is about God saying “turn to me, turn to me.”

    Like other commenters, it’s part of the reason I have a hard time with the prudishness of some segements of evangelicalism. It’s also why I have a hard time with self-help curricula and what Dallas Willard calls the “sin management” approach to the Christian life. Both seem to cheapen the journey of faith. If God can work his plan in spite of the utter dysfunction of fratricide, adultery, prostitution, deceit, trickery, lies, stealing and everything else in the OT, I’m sure he can work in and through our imperfect lives.

    • Well said John! It’s a tragedy if Christians indeed aren’t familiar with the more “raw” parts of the Bible because they are definitely missing out on lessons of how God works in spite of our sins.
      It’s also a wonderful reminder that we can always turn to God no matter what we’ve done, and He’s always waiting, pleading for us to do so!

      • Steve Newton says:

        It is true that many Christians are unfamiliar with these parts of the Bible and is unfortunate, , but imagine preaching about them to a congregation with children in attendance! “Mommy, what’s incest?” asks little Mary. Or how about ten-year-old Johnny asking his dad what sodomy is. Eventually children need to learn these things but there are age appropiate times for them which a sermon cannot respect. As a minister I think this stuff is best discussed in Bible study, but unfortunatley you get less attendance for that than the sermons.

        • I taught mainly adults, but sometiimes we did have their kids present (it was an informal SS class). All I can say is that when you have kids there, you adjust. You can often give most of the story and the relevant themes without gong into all the gory, earthy details. Adults can read those for themselves. That’s how I handled it.

          The other point I’d make is that except in the case of pretty young kids, adults often don’t give them nearly enough credit. Most of them can handle a lot more than we think they can. It’s the adults who more often get worked up about things!

          • i completely agree with you, john. kids can handle more than parents give them credit for. it was my students’ parents who didn’t appreciate that their sons were reading Judges. and it was my students’ parents who didn’t appreciate their daughters reading about zelophehad’s daughters, who today would have been labelled “godless, raging feminists”. God loves us the way we are. addictions, mood swings, raging hormones, impulsive acts, outspokenness… He understands, and He is patient and gentle, and doesn’t wait to use us until His good work in us is complete. He loves us and uses us NOW, just as we are, because ultimately, it’s not us doing anything, but Him doing it through us.

  19. On a lighter note:

    I was watching EWTN last night and one of the regular guests told a joke about three people who ‘just opening the Bible’ randomly to see what God had to say the them directly in their weekly Bible study.

    The first man opened randomly and read aloud about Judas going out and hanging himself.
    The second man opened his Bible, also randomly, and read ‘Go thou and do like-wise.’
    The third man opened his Bible quickly and read, (you guessed it) and read Christ’s words ‘what thou will do, do quickly.’

    • Did that once. Didn’t like what the verse was, or it didn’t apply. Anyways, did it again. Got a verse about putting God to the test. Havent done it since. :)

      • I’m very confused by this post, but I’m an atheist so obviously I’m coming at this from a different angle than most of you.

        I definitely agree that most people are unaware of a lot of stuff that is really in the Bible, and instead think of it as a lot of nice stuff with nice morals and happy endings for everybody. But I don’t understand how you are responding to the realization that there is a lot of gritty stuff. These people who do nasty, nasty things to the people they are supposed to love and honor — these people are held up as beacons of righteousness and goodness! Is it good to offer up your daughters to be raped by an angry mob? Is it righteous to base your life on deceit of your friends and loved ones? If that’s how you should behave in order to be a person “after God’s own heart,” I don’t want to be one!

        It honestly makes my skin crawl to read rationalizations of these stories here, such as that we “are born broken, are still broken, and in daily need of healing and rehealing,” or that “a God of grace is present and working to fulfill a plan and ultimately make something new and good.” Is your omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God deliberately making humans who are broken so that they come desperately crawling to him for healing and blessing? That sounds pretty disgusting to me. Why not just make that “something new and good” the first time around?

        Rather than rationalize how these horrible stories in the Bible are actually still uplifting somehow, why not be honest and recognize that maybe this is just an old collection of stories cobbled together by many people over thousands of years, without any supernatural significance or unique moral weight whatsoever? Clearly everyone here is able to distinguish between actual good behavior and immoral behavior even when the text of the Bible seriously muddles the issue. That’s why I prefer to rely on my own power of reason and my own moral intuition.

        And that’s why it’s so offensive when people say that atheists can’t possibly be moral. Seriously, have those people even read some of the things that the Bible says it’s okay to do?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      And THAT is why you don’t go “BIble-dipping”!

  20. A retiring Prof from seminary once did a great sermon where he recounted all the “great deeds” of the Biblical “heroes” ending each bit with “i could do that” or “i think I may have done that”. It was funny, but it brought home the message that being a saint is about living in God’s grace.

  21. I’ve taught in children’s for 18 years.

    I can’t tell you how many times while telling the story I’ve looked into all those dear sweet faces and been rendered speechless. Should I tell them the unvarnished truth? If not, then why am I talking to them?

    • Your comment could be turned into another complete post—how do you teach this stuff to kids in church?

      • I agree that a post on this topic would be interesting. . . I’ve often wondered what the point is of telling kids Bible stories that are either half truths or else contain innapropriate material (genocide, sexual references, violence etc).

      • As a parent, I’d want to know who was going to present the sexual material to my kids, and how. I’d really rather be there to hear what they tell them. Frankly, I’d rather teach them that myself than leave it to a Sunday School class.

        Which raises the question of what the role of the church is for the education of children.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

      I used to sit with my grandparents in church and play with little hot wheels. I remember the very first sermon I ever actually decided to listen to. It was on Gen 22, and I remember to this day, thinking to myself: “God asked Abraham to do WHAT?” I count that day as the beginning of my journey toward seeing that there was more to this wacky book than they had told me about.

      I think that more Christians should have to teach children, when I’ve had to do it, it reminded me how shocking some of this stuff really is. God bless you and your ministry.

  22. Love the post! Knowing I’m overgeneralizing, I’m going to say it anyone: A post like this reaffirms my belief that many/most evangelicals don’t actually *read* the *bible*. They read books *about* the bible, they read portions of the bible, they read select books of the bible, but they don’t read the whole thing. If they did, they wouldn’t insist that everyone should read it, that it’s as clear as day, and that everything is a happy-and-joyful party while we wait for the eternal party.

    I’m a pastor, and I try to preach the bible for all that is–warts and all. I love reading this messy parts of the bible, because, as Rick Ro. pointed out, we see God dealing with real human beings, redeeming them out of or despite of the messes they/we create. If God can call Noah righteous, then he can certainly forgive my sins.

    The details of the bible that we often (want to) overlook are, for me, where the real power of the bible is found, as God weaves his Spirit in and among his chosen people.

    • Jenny Islander says:

      Yes. A prayer book that really takes you through the whole Bible in a year will include the rape and murder of Tamar and the assassination of that one guy who was so fat that the knife sank into his fat and disappeared. And the other guy who is ded from tent peg.

  23. Wow! Chapline Mike, can I use this in a sermon on redemption this Sunday? Send me your info and i will give proper credit.

  24. Dietrich Boenhoeffer in “The Cost of Discipleship” wrote that “Discipleship means adherence to Jesus Christ alone, and immediately; but now comes the surprise-the disciples are bound to the OT Law. This has a double significance. First, it means that adherence to the law is something quite different from the following of Christ; and, secondly, it means that any adherence to His person that disregards the law is equally removed from the following of Him…Which is our final authority, Christ or the Law?..The Law is not itself God, nor is God the Law. It was the error of Israel to put the Law in God’s place, to make the Law their God, and their God a Law. The disciples were confronted with the opposite danger of denying the Law its divinity altogether and divorcing God from His Law. Both errors lead to the same result. By confounding God and the Law, the Jews were trying to use the Law to exploit the Law-giver….the disciples were trying to exploit God by their possession of salvation…and in both cases, the gift was confounded with the Giver. “

    My question: Has not the Church wrestled with this same problem concerning the Bible? Have some not, at least to some degree, “deified” the Book, claimed it as their own sword rather than the property of the Spirit, and made themselves in the process “Keepers of the Word”?

    • The Cost of Disciplship is a great book!

      Dietrich was hardcore.

    • Jonathan Hunnicutt says:

      I will never forget when one time while at a Bible church, we started worshiping the Bible. It was a song called “Ancient Words.”

      At the time, something bothered me, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. My college pastor called it what it was: idolatry. That was his last day at the church.

      Needless to say, I don’t go to “Bible” churches anymore.

      • I understand your point, and the people may have been worshiping the Bible, but you would have to twist the grammar in the lyrics to claim that the song is a song of worship to the Bible.

    • The Cost of Discipleship is indeed a great book, but I disagree with Bonhoeffer here. It’s true that many Pharisees got caught up in the minutiae of the law, focusing more on the details than the honor and worship that was intended through the law. But after all, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt 5:17).

      Perhaps some do “deify” the Book, but I think there’s a big difference between honoring divine revelation and deifying it.

      The Church indeed considers herself “keeper of the Word”, but then again, any other church has its own interpretation of the Bible and surely considers itself a keeper of the Word as well. In a sense all Christians are keepers of the word since we’ve been given the duty to spread the Gospel.

      It can definitely get confusing, but all we can do is our best to follow God as we think He is asking us to! God bless =)

  25. fernando tobares says:

    is there anyway to post this or twitter these awesome articles

  26. We tend to do the same thing with the Gospels. We sanitize the apostles. We tend to minimize the humanity of Our Lord Jesus despite the fact that we proclaim that he is fully man and fully God. We miss some of the raw tension that there is in the exchanges between Our Lord and some of the Pharisees and Sadduccees.

    In John 8:19, Jesus is asked, “Where is your father?” The innuendos go on. In verse 41 they say, “We are not illegitimate children. . .”

    Finally in verse 44, Jesus says, “You belong to your father, the devil . . .”

    To which the Jews answer in verse 48, “. . . you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed.”

    The contretemps keep up, but a few verses later, Jesus says to them, “If I said I did not, I would be a liar like you . . .”

    Folks, this is not exactly a polite exchange between Our Lord and his detractors. It is a strong argument with innuendo and strong comebacks.

    • The one that caught my attention as a kid was where Saul calls Jonathan his son (in KJV), “thou son of a perverse and rebellious woman”. I think we can imagine a suitable substitute for that last phrase–talk about “not exactly a polite exchange”.

    • Let’s not leave out the serious verbal flailing that Jesus gave the Jewish religious leaders in the 23rd chapter of Matthew — where He informed them that they would be held personally responsible for every drop of righteous blood ever shed on planet earth. Now that’s hardcore!

  27. Great article – I love the word because it is REAL! And within all these stories there is hope, and it always is found pointing to God redeeming people through His precious son Jesus! Love it. I do have one question – When you mentioned Noah and his son doing something immoral in his bedroom, I don’t know how you pulled that from the text of that story – what other information are you using to conclude that he committed an immoral act? Was it the act of seeing his father naked or was their more you were alluding too. Please explain.
    Thanks.

    • “to uncover [someone’s] nakedness” is possibly a euphemism for a sexual act. It may be that Noah’s son actually slept with his mother or some such thing. Whatever happened (and the text is vague), I think it was more than simply seeing someone unclothed.

      • I heard from somewhere from a well-known Reformed scholar (I think it was O. Palmer Robertson) that when the Bible says that Ham uncovered Noah’s nakedness that it meant he sodomized his father for power purposes. I don’t really buy that though. I think Ham just did a disgraceful act by literally looking at his naked father while he was in a drunken stupor.

        • Chaplain Mike is right. Uncovering nakedness is used through out the books of Moses as a euphemism for sexual acts. It is unlikely that Ham received such a curse for merely seeing his father naked and laughing.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I heard from somewhere from a well-known Reformed scholar (I think it was O. Palmer Robertson) that when the Bible says that Ham uncovered Noah’s nakedness that it meant he sodomized his father for power purposes.

          In other words, a Primate Forced-Dominance Display. Penetrator and Penetrated, Dom and Sub. What prison slang calls “Makin’ a Woman out of Ya”.

          In his book Gifts of the Jews, Thomas Cahill points out (through the device of a pre-Torah Sumerian fertility ritual, with two-legged animals howling in rut on the steps of the ziggurat) that Torah was about Transcending the Animal.

  28. Even our much-heralded modern English translations tiptoe around certain subjects, because we moderns like our Bible sanitized and euphemistic too. Case in point: I Samuel 5, where all the new versions say the Philistines “tumors” after taking the ark of the covenant. Only the much-disparaged KJV says “emerods” — closer to the truth. What in the world are they? Well, the Hebrew word means “tumors protruding from the anus” and what the Philistines got was hemorrhoids (emerod is to hemorrhoid as alleluia is to Hallelujah)….

    Sorry, but somebody had to say it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Smiting with Hemorroids?
      I think this proves God has a Redneck sense of humor.

      And doesn’t Isaiah say something to the proud about “God will pants you in public, so all can see you swingin’ in the breeze”?

      And Ezekiel — man, that guy had a dirty mouth.

      • Jenny Islander says:

        “So, where’s yer god? I mean, here we are, and here’s yer altar, and it ain’t exactly burnin’. Hey, maybe he’s takin’ a leak!”

  29. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    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!

    In my case, more like duct tape than glue.

  30. I whole-heartedly agree, Mike, that a more honest and complete approach to scripture is needed in current Western Christendom. For one, I think it would help us to discern the difference between true righteousness (which is the product of God’s redeeming and transforming work in the lives of seriously screwed up people) and mere religiosity or prudishness.
    I also think it would be healthy if we took a more honest look at the not-so-pretty aspects of church history — while refraining from the tendency to invent theological rationalizations or situational justifications for the very real atrocities committed in the name of Christ and His church. Rather, we would do better to look for the twisted roots of these atrocities in the theology, ecclessiology, and general structural and moral state of the church at the time these things happened — and then closely examine our current state to see if any of those twisted roots are still present. Is it because of real spiritual, moral, theological, and ecclessiological progress that we no longer engage in inquisitions, the enforcement of religious unity through mass coercion and brutality, bloody religious wars and pograms, witch trials, and fighting paganism via disease-infested blankets? Or is just because secular government has trimmed our claws over the past couple of centuries?

  31. Waltzing Matilda says:

    Someone may have already pointed this out, but Jacob’s daughter was named Dinah. And although the Bible says Shechem violated or defiled her, it also says he loved her, spoke tenderly to her, and wanted to marry her. I believe one of the translations even says he loved her with his soul. So, did he rape her, or was it simply considered defilement because he wasn’t circumcised, she wasn’t his wife, and she was a virgin? Because if it is the later, then the fact that her brothers agreed to let them marry if he and all his kin got circumcised, it makes what they did that much more odious.

  32. BiggieBigs says:

    Rated R? More like NC-17 with a smattering of XXX here and there

  33. I’m somewhat reluctant to agree with so a general statement as “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.”

    You could just as easily make the argument that too many people only remember the threatening stories of the Bible and only consider God an angry, cruel, punishing God. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing or favoring certain parts or stories from the Bible and none of us is immune.

    I think the truth is that we can all learn more about the Bible, no matter what age or how learned. We will never fully know or understand Jesus and His Father in this lifetime so we all need to constantly try to read the Bible with fresh eyes.

  34. I would be interested in someone’s idea for moving from the “kids’ version” of Genesis to the Adult version in the teaching of kids.

  35. Don’t forget one of the least preached about books in the Bible, the Song of Solomon. It’s pretty sexy.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Sometimes, I wonder if this (by which I mean, the sexiness) is why, throughout Church history, the Song of Solomon has so often been read allegorically. Or perhaps, it was *meant* to be read allegorically, and it is difficult for us to understand because we don’t tend to think as much in that way as earlier Christians did? I dunno… just thinking out loud here.

      Even if the Song *is* an allegory though, God definitely has no problem with using sexual metaphors in poetry…. wouldn’t most of the edgy poetry slam fans be surprised at that? :-)

    • LOL.
      So true.

  36. Right On!
    God Word is for real people, and shows us as we are and were. That in my opinion is the greatest proof for its validity. We tend to turn our heros into what we invision them to be instead of how they really were. The scribes of the Bible held nothign back. Ask a geneologist, they will say many times, skeletons are hidden very well, and warts are seldom seen. Great article.

  37. Mike, whence cometh the Buechner quote?

  38. Heya. New reader, enjoying Internet Monk so far. Good article – at the risk of coming off impertinent, though, I think you meant Jacob’s daughter Dinah, not Leah. Anyway. You made me think of my pastor’s version of Noah’s Ark. 0=)