sometimes I want to break up with the Bible

So I’ve been participating in these Five Minute Friday posts (prompted by Lisa-Jo Baker), and today’s word is broken. I want to keep up with this habit, this community, but I also have something else that’s been bugging me, so bear with me as I go a bit past 5 minutes.

Sometimes I want to break up with the Bible.

I come to the Bible a broken person. I have a sinful, selfish mind that can grab onto technicalities and blow little things out of proportion. More than that, I’m a specifically broken person, with my own experiences and my own hang-ups (as a result of those experiences), my own expectations. Even more than that, I’m a hurt person, a hurting person. I bring those hurts and (sometimes secret) fears to my reading.

This is partially why I’m reading the Bible through from beginning to end: no more picking only my favorite parts, no more focusing only on the fun passages, the passages that support what I already think and believe. This has meant dragging myself through Numbers (why, oh why repeat each set of numbers twice?!?), but also meant discovering gems of passages I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Right now I’m reading Ezekiel. That is one weird book of the Bible. God really puts some of his prophets through the ringer. It starts with a fantastical vision of strange beings with wings and wheels and multiple faces and God giving Ezekiel a scroll of funeral dirges and pronouncements of dooms and making him eat it. Actually chew and swallow it (don’t worry, it tasted as sweet as honey). But within the weirdness is this:

“You must give them my messages whether they listen or not….And whether they listen or not — for remember, they are rebels — at least they will know they have had a prophet among them” (Ez. 2:7, 5, NLT).

I am not a prophet and I have no plans to ever go around calling myself Prophet Natalie. But God puts things on my heart to say, to write. And that passage tells me to say and to write them whether people respond or not, because my responsibility is to give the message that God has given/does give/is giving me, to use the voice God has given me. It’s not my job to fuss about how many readers I have or to despair because people don’t seem to be listening. It’s my job to speak. I am encouraged by this. It sets me free.

Ezekiel has to pull some crazy stunts (although God goes back on his request that Ezekiel defile his food by cooking it over human dung patties). I tend to approach these as God doing the equivalent of making a viral video: he’s having his prophet pull a public stunt that people will see and just have to talk about with people at the market, at the threshing field, on the roads (see Ez. 5 & 12).

“Did you hear what Ezekiel did this time?”

“Can’t be crazier than when he shaved his head and beard and divided it into thirds and burned part, scattered part, and slashed part.”

“Why did he do that again?”

“To show what will happen to Jerusalem because we’re ‘so rebellious.’ What was it now?”

“He packed his stuff, dug a hole in the wall, and walked away with his hands over his face. Says we’ll all be in exile, never to return, even Zedekiah.”

God will use anything to get his people to listen, even our love of gossiping about something crazy that someone did. I can appreciate that.

But then Ezekiel 16 has a disturbing metaphor about Israel as an abandoned female baby that God cleaned and cared for and raised and then married, but the wife/Israel trusted in her fame and beauty and gave herself as a prostitute to every man/country that came along. The wife/Israel used the gifts God gave her and turned them into idols and gifts for idols and gifts to all her lovers. The story gets quite graphic about how God will turn over the unfaithful wife/Israel to her lovers for them to destroy.

Israel as an unfaithful wife is a common metaphor in the prophets, and I’m trying to take to heart the message that my relationship with God is an intimate one, that God feels my betrayals as personally as a spouse who’s been cheated on. As a result, I’ve been trying not to skimp on the confession part of my prayers in my rush to get to the assurance of pardon. I can also approach the story as historical, as describing the history of Israel and saying how it will be for Israel in exile.

Still, this story sits in my gut like a gas bubble and I’m not sure what kind of foulness will result it it bursts.

And then I read on. Ezekiel 23 is about the repeated adultery of two sisters (aka Samaria and Jerusalem) against their husband/God. The story starts with this indictment: “They became prostitutes in Egypt. Even as young girls, they allowed themselves to be fondled and caressed” (v. 3). As if a young girl makes that happen because of her lust. As if a young girl being fondled is her fault.

There’s more stuff in the chapter, but that’s what really got me, what sent a lick of flame to one of my fears: that the Bible is a book by men for men, where what I am (female) is repeatedly misunderstood and misrepresented and used as a metaphor for what is wrong.

I know, I know. There’s more than that to God and more than that to the Bible. But it’s easier to keep that assurance going when I don’t have to read stories like the above. It is, in fact, what kept me from a regular devotional practice for years: fear that I’d meet a God who challenged my beliefs about him. But stories like that are in there. And I have to deal with them.

Here’s how I do it. I will keep reading the Bible, and I will find something amazing, something that gives me hope, something that tells me how much God loves me, how radical and countercultural God is, and the bubble will deflate. The bubble will still be there, because the Bible has some disturbing stuff in it that’s hard for this woman to deal with. But I also know that God is bigger than any culture’s language or stable of metaphors about him.

So even though I kind of want to at this moment, I won’t break up with the Bible. And I definitely won’t break up with God. I’m going to be uncomfortable for a little while, no doubt about it. But God will love me through it. He always has, and he always will. That is my faith.

 

10 thoughts on “sometimes I want to break up with the Bible

  1. Natalie, thanks for this. It’s a lament and it’s anguishing. Thanks especially for your testimony in the final paragraph. There’s so little I can say to your pain. There is a male mood or mode or dimension or outlook or whatever – it’s there. Yes, it’s culturally conditioned; it’s historical; yes, we know those things, but if that’s how God wants to introduce us to Godself, there’s something disturbing about it.
    Is it something he “allowed” to happen to honor the reality in and through which he wanted to reveal Self to us? Is it something the Gospel itself will empower us to transcend? to see through? even to learn from? I just don’t know. but somehow, the last para you wrote gets beyond it. So thanks.

    1. Thank you, Karl. I don’t even usually allow myself the “why” questions, because they get me into even more trouble 🙂 There is always that final move, even in the most wrenching of lament Psalms, when we come back to God’s goodness, and God’s faithfulness, even if for nothing else than the reminder that *that* is always true, no matter what else we may be feeling.

  2. I loved this…how you’re reading, really reading, and wrestling, and questioning, and arguing. And I think this is what we are supposed to do. To not take scripture at its face value, but to dig and search and find the answers. One of the most life-changing things for me was a few years ago when I read the Bible in 90 days in Chronological order. So much came alive to me…so much into context. And yet, like you, I found there were hard things in there. Things I wrestled with too. Keep at it, friend. God is faithful to allow us to see and learn from Him, especially in these tough passages. I am WITH you!! xoxo

    (And I love that you kept writing…from one fellow FMF rule-breaker to another!! Most of mine are 15min fridays 🙂

    1. Thank you, Jacque. That’s one of the best/worst things about the Bible — it’s a living Word, hence the wrestling and arguing. I can’t imagine how intense it would be to read the entire Bible in 3 months. I’m taking years to do it, and that’s tough enough. Thanks for the company 🙂

  3. thank you for sharing this Natalie… the tough passages make me want to break up with the Bible too sometimes… you express your struggle (and mine) SO well… keep writing!

    1. Thank you, Christina — I wish us both some good Bible reading, reading that reminds us why we won’t break up with it 🙂

  4. I am thankful that you took longer than five minutes to hash this out…sometimes the prompt just lights something in us…God is definitely a God who will challenge our beliefs about him, who wants us to go deeper, and to see the reality of what is and what is to come. I have tried several times to read through the Old Testament to no avail…I shall attempt it again, cause I know there is so much to learn and Ezekiel sound strange but interesting at the same time.

    1. Thank you, Janel. I’ve been so glad to hear that others cheat on the 5 minutes sometimes, too. And I hear you about not making it through the O.T. There’s at least one 9 month gap in my reading … it’s always there for you to go back to 🙂

  5. so, this is a very honest posting…so many times we want to see and read the good, the easy, the nice, comfortable, uplifting parts of the bible, and avoid the hard, messy, chewing-on-but-doesn’t-taste-good parts that are in there for a reason that we can’t understand. i am always surprised when there IS an answer, something i didn’t see, but realize many days (weeks) later…those AHA moments are unexpected, and frankly, great lessons! love your writing Natalie!

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