The Bible is the world’s best-selling book. For many it is a sacred text, providing spiritual inspiration and insight, while for some it is viewed primarily as an historical and religious artifact. Still others consider it to be a dangerous piece of written propaganda filled with irrelevant fables and fairy tales from an ancient tribal culture.
As a follower of Jesus, I hold the Bible in high regard. It has greatly informed and enriched my life from a very young age and continues to be an important part of my journey of life and faith. I vividly recall as a child, waking up each morning to discover my father reading the Bible, with pen in hand, taking notes on thoughts and reflections on the passage he was reading that morning. I still own an old Gideon’s New Testament with the date and time I first prayed to invite Jesus into my heart as a young, inquisitive 3-year-old, while also still owning the leather bound NKJV study bible I won as a child for memorizing Scripture in my Sunday school class at the Baptist church I attended growing up.
Without a doubt, I have many fond memories of the Bible, and yet, as the title of this blog suggests, my relationship with the Bible hasn’t always been safe, simple and satisfying. In fact, I can rightly say that my relationship with the Bible, at times, has been complex, chaotic and catastrophic. There was a time when I wouldn’t dare express such thoughts about the Bible, for fear of being chastised by my family, faith community and God Himself; and yet, if I’m honest, the more I took the Bible seriously as I grew into my adolescent years and adulthood, the more I kept bumping up against passages of Scripture that were disorienting, discouraging and in some cases downright dreadful.
One such passage is that of Noah’s Ark and the story of the flood in Genesis 6. I’m sure this story was a big part of my childhood learning how to sing, colour and interior decorate, as this story inspired numerous Sunday school songs, colouring pages and pieces of bedroom décor. Viewed through the lens of my childhood, this story was one of God’s salvation (at least as depicted in the wall hung portrait in my bedroom as a child depicting Noah and his family waving happily from the safety of the ark surrounded by smiling pairs of animals!) and his promise to never again flood the earth with the rainbow serving as a continual reminder of God’s faithful promise.
And yet, if taken at face value, this story is one of the violent mass execution of nearly the entire human race. A mere six chapters into the Bible, God’s self-declared ‘very good’ humanity has gone so far off the rails that God deemed it necessary to hit the reset button and start from scratch, preserving only Noah and his family and a pair of animals to go back to the proverbial drawing board for a re-do.
As I kept bumping up against violent passages which permeated the pages of the Bible, a growing sense of disorientation and despair was taking root in my heart and mind. The Bible which at one time was so simple, so pure and so sacred, was quickly becoming so complex, so polluted and so profane, and I found my life and faith quickly unraveling.
Things came to a head one evening in University while reading through the book of Joshua (truth be told, if there was one book in the Bible that I wouldn’t miss one iota, it’s this blood-soaked story of violent conquest). I vividly recall, in a fit of rage, picking up my Bible and hurling it across the room like ______ (insert name of your favourite hard-throwing right-handed baseball pitcher) following by verbally hurling some choice words at God, which I can’t repeat here. To sanitize and paraphrase, my words went something like this,
‘God if you are like this, then I want nothing to do with you and if that means burning for eternity in hell then so be it, because I would rather burn forever than follow the violent, bloodthirsty, vengeful, retributive God I read about in the story of the flood, the conquest narratives in Joshua and countless other parts of the Bible!’
A part of me was convinced lightning would fall from heaven at that moment instantly striking me dead, but that never happened. What did happen was I set my Bible on the shelf for the better part of a year as the Bible had become too painful and traumatizing to read in that season of my life. During that year, not wanting to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater, I sought out some guidance and wisdom from others on a similar journey. I started widening my lens, reading and exploring the vastness and diversity of the different parts of the church past and present. I found lifelines in reading the early church Fathers such as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Athanasius, while I took comfort in reading the Christian mystics of the middle ages such as Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and contemporary theologians/pastors such as Pete Enns, Dallas Willard, Bruxy Cavey, Brian Zahnd, Brad Jersak, N.T. Wright and this hyperactive pastor from the Twin Cities who spoke a mile a minute, named Greg Boyd.
Over the past fifteen years, Greg’s writings, sermons and blogs have been used by God to help me deconstruct and reconstruct the hermeneutical lens through which I read and interpret Scripture, keeping Jesus at the centre.
For over a decade, Greg, like myself and countless others, has been wrestling with how to interpret violent portraits of God in Scripture (primarily, but not limited to the Old Testament) in light of the cross, reconciling the violence attributed to God in Scripture with the non-violent teachings, life and death of Jesus.
After much wrestling, researching and writing for more than a decade, Greg has recently published the fruit of his labour, a mammoth 2 volume, 1400-page work entitled, The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: Interpreting the Old Testament’s Violent Portraits of God in Light of the Cross.
Recently I had the pleasure of reading The Crucifixion of the Warrior God. Had a book like this been in my hands 16 years ago, it might have saved me (and my Bible-turned-baseball!) from enduring some grief and trauma. Yet, as I look back with clarity of 20-20 hindsight, I am reminded of the basic pattern of death, burial and resurrection echoed throughout Scripture reaching its crescendo in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the one who fully and finally reveals to us the very heart of God. Resurrection to new life can only occur following death and burial, and it wasn’t until I was able to die to and bury my misguided approach to the Bible, that the beauty of a resurrected Cruciform Hermeneutic—a lens of reading and interpreting Scripture which filters everything through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus—was able to take root and grow.
Of course, as I look back, it wasn’t the Bible that nearly killed my faith, but rather the presuppositions I brought to the Bible about what the Bible itself is, how it operates, and most importantly, the lens through which I interpret Scripture. These days, having been given a new lens through which to read and interpret Scripture, I read the Bible with more passion and clarity than ever before, with the intent of growing in the knowledge and grace of the God revealed fully and finally in Jesus, the one to whom all Scripture bears witness to.
Having shared my own journey of disorientation and reorientation as it relates to the Bible, I will devote two future posts to dissecting and interacting with The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, first summarizing the Cruciform Hermeneutic (Vol. 1) Greg espouses followed by a subsequent post in which I will examine Greg’s Cruciform Thesis (Vol. 2) highlighting what I perceive to be some of the many strengths (as well as some weaknesses) of Greg’s thesis.
If you, like me and countless others you have been troubled by the biblical stories that depict God as violent, tribal and retributive, know that you are not alone and know that this book can be like a healing balm to those weary spiritual muscles, exhausted from wrestling with the texts of terror and violence in Scripture.
Just as Jacob spent the longest night of his life wrestling with God, take comfort in the fact that dawn is inevitably approaching, at which time, having tasted and seen the goodness of God (Psalm 34:8 ) you, like the Apostle John will declare, God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)
Read part 2