I was never one of those kids who could be appeased by the response, “Because I said so…” It was insufficient, to say the least, and did nothing to quell the true curiosity or intent of my question — whatever that question may have been. And, while I am sure that this personal quality may have been the bane of my parents' existence, I believe that it has also propelled me to where I am today.
I was raised in a tradition where the Bible had ultimate authority and also contained every answer possible. And the questions it did not answer could simply be answered with, “Ask God when you get to heaven…”. Eventually, I was frustrated with the process to the point where I did not ask questions any longer. It is not that I was satisfied with the unknown nor did I want to live ignorantly, but I was sick of getting ignorant responses.
By the time I hit college, I had become one of those robots who would simply say, “Because the Bible says so…” This infuriated my first several religion professors and sent me searching for a different school to attend. Eventually, I decided to stick it out and do what I could to teach the professors a thing or two (because my 17 years of Sunday School could easily win me a battle against someone with a PhD).
But something happened the summer after my first year in college.
I spent a summer as a counselor at a Christian camp in Virginia for inner-city kids from Washington D.C. In order to keep myself grounded (and to prepare for the following year of more religious arguments…ahem…education), I decided to read A LOT of scripture every day. I read a psalm, a chapter of Proverbs, several chapters from the Hebrew Bible, several chapters of a gospel, and an entire epistle every single day.
And it was good. Well, it was good until I stumbled across two passages — both written by the Apostle Paul — that completely contradicted each other. If it had been a text from the Hebrew Bible and a text from the Christian Testament, I could have handled it. But both texts from Paul? This was problematic. And, in all honesty, I let this occurrence shatter years and years of faith. But not just faith in the Bible — faith in those who I believed were learned individuals and who had said things like, “There are no contradictions in the Christian texts!”
As I continued in my studies, I learned about interpolations (an insertion within a text that was not part of the original author’s text) and the idea that, because human hands have copied manuscripts and original text has been edited, there are errors within “sacred” scripture. That is not to say that the underlying message is not the same (most of the time, it is), but there are many unknowns when it comes to ancient texts — even those that have been studied for centuries.
Ultimately, then, my challenge is not to throw out the entirety of scripture because human hands have touched it, but rather, to consider scriptural texts (from any faith tradition) with both the heart and the head. And when there are difficulties within a set of texts, be honest about it! It is important to respond to these difficulties boldly and with openness rather than having the 'right' answer. “Because the Bible says so…” is not a sufficient response for anyone if we are truly honest about the difficulties of living a life of faith. “Let’s work through this together…” is much more indicative of a sincere community of faith.