This week a friend of mine, who’s an atheist, posted a link to a video of a guy who spent five minutes ranting about how he didn’t understand how any woman could be a Christian. I respect my friend as a thinking person who has actually read the Bible before accepting it or rejecting it, because I know a number of skeptics and believers who have based their opinions on what they’ve heard is in the Bible. So because I respect him, I watched the video all the way through as the speaker raged, making the same claims over and over again without ever pointing to much of anything specific to support his argument, as if repeating it endlessly might make him believe it himself.
Afterwards, I wrote back to my friend, telling him that while I respected his opinions, there are far more logical atheists who actually have sound arguments for what they believe. He wrote back to me, suggesting that, because I choose to focus on the messages of grace in the Bible, I am “cherry-picking.” He said that if people are going to accept part of the Bible, they have to accept it all: “A person cannot be a true Christian without believing in the teachings of the Bible.” Translation—you, Estelene, are not a true Christian.
So here we are again, in an either/or world—a world that so many of us want to see in simplistic terms—black or white, right or wrong, for or against. I can’t accept such a world. The world is sometimes light, sometimes dark, sometimes dusk, sometimes dawn. The world is sometimes sunny, sometimes stormy, sometimes both—resulting in an amazing rainbow. People are sometimes good, sometimes evil, sometimes a mix of the two—simply complex human beings.
And that’s the way I read the Bible. It isn’t the inerrant word of God. It isn’t a collection of mythical stories meant to teach a lesson. It’s the stories of people who are struggling with good and evil, light and dark, hate and love. Sometimes they completely miss the mark, and sometimes they’re close. Just like you and me. And my favorite stories in the Bible are those where Jesus is kind and understanding to the people who can’t quite reach him but can’t quite let him go either.
First, there is the story of the woman who just needed to reach out and touch Jesus’ robe to know she will get the healing she needs. Jesus is being jostled in a huge crowd, and He suddenly stops and asks who has touched Him. The woman figures she will never get Him to give her the time of day with all those people demanding His attention, but she is convinced she will be okay the moment she touches Him. And she is.
The second is the story of the man whom we have come to know as “Doubting Thomas.” Jesus appears to the disciples after the crucifixion, and Thomas can’t believe it unless he sees it for himself. The part I love about the story is that Jesus understands Thomas’ doubt and tells him, “Here, stick your fingers in these wounds and see for yourself.” I also love it that Thomas is willing to reach out his hands and take a chance that his doubts might be wrong.
The third of my favorites is a father’s story. This man’s child has been plagued by convulsions all of his life, and the father can do nothing. He asks the disciples to heal his son, and the disciples, too, are powerless. When the father sees Jesus, he cries out for help. Jesus tells him that if he will just believe, his son will be healed. The man declares his belief, but then, in the same breath, he begs, “Help my unbelief,” which shows that he really isn’t sure at all. The wondrous thing here is that Jesus seems, again, to understand the doubt of this tormented father, and He heals the man’s son despite the man’s wavering faith.
Do I believe everything in the Bible is to be taken literally? Of course not. I don’t believe God thinks a woman should be stoned for adultery or that women should just shut up in church. But do I believe the stories of Jesus are simply stories—made up to make us think about what the world would be like if we live as we should? No. But even if I end up being wrong about that when I leave this earth, what a glorious set of stories they have been for me—helping me to see the world as it should be.
To me, a true Christian is someone who lives a life like Christ—the fully human man who challenged the know-it-alls, who used the resources he had to heal the sick and champion the least among us. Not such a bad way to be—and every bit as beautiful as that rainbow that we can only see when we’re willing to accept both the rain and the sunshine at the same time.
So tell me the favorite stories of your faith.