Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan

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The Bible: God's Word?

I believe the Bible is God's word. I believe the whole Bible is God's word. Precisely what that means and how it should be fully expressed is another discussion for another time but I need to make my conviction clear that in my view the Bible we have is the Bible the Spirit of God wanted us to have.

A host of non-believers can't accept that. There are many who won't commit to Christ though they accept the truth of scripture--they simply don't wish to follow Christ. Some non-believers (like some of us believers) just like to hear themselves talk so in ignorance they weigh in against scripture because it's fashionable in some quarters. Others, more serious, see difficulties of various kinds in a text claimed to be the word of God and just won't allow the Bible to be the end of all argument. They believe (with some justification) that man's religious and moral views have evolved and since the Bible, so they tell us, is the repository of man's religious convictions millennia ago, we should expect it to bear the marks of evolving religious and moral thought. Consequently, they tell us, we should expect to find outdated views and unsatisfactory ethical judgements. This makes sense but like everything else, it needs to be examined carefully and modified in light of the Bible we have rather than the Bible a lot of people think we have.

It's a shallow view of the Bible that sees it as nothing but a book of moral maxims. It's a mistaken view of the Bible to see it as an exhaustive blueprint for ethical and moral behaviour. The Bible records the shallow and erroneous views and the abominable behaviour of many of the people it deals with and on occasion it promotes the regulation of an evil rather than the immediate obliteration of that evil. (See the regulation of divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as a single illustration of this and Jesus' comment on it in Matthew 19:3-9, especially verse 8.)

I'd like to make two observations, close this piece and take it up again at another time. The first is this: Even if the non-believer can't accept the Bible as "the inspired word of God" it makes no sense to dismiss it as shallow and of little account. On anyone's estimate it is a profoundly influential volume that has shaped nations down the centuries and enriched their understanding and pursuit of social justice and personal transformation. I confess it irks me greatly to hear talk-show hosts silence those who quote scripture and then ask for Freudian opinion for some other guest. One doesn't have to believe in the verbal inspiration of scripture before he or she can recognise that the Bible is the most profound book in Western literature. (Thomas H. Huxley, the agnostic, was a perfect illustration of this truth.) And to dismiss scripture as though it hasn't changed the world for the better but give (almost amusing) credence to the latest psychological theorising is little short of ludicrous. (The most trenchant criticisms of the whole psychology enterprise these days come from professionals within the field. They're helping no one, they say, and least of all the practitioners.) So we should let the Bible be heard because, at the very least, it has earned that right as surely as Freud or Maslow or Fromm. (That last sentence strikes me as amusing on the one hand and stupid on the other. Imagine putting these men in the same league with the Hebrew-Christian scriptures, even for comparison sake?)

The second observation is this: I would urge non-believers to read the Bible in light of its central thrust. However one might phrase it, it's this: God is our Holy Father who created us, we rebelled against him and instead of obliterating us he began the work of redeeming us and this work of redemption has come to its fullness in Jesus Christ. This redemptive work is now ongoing and will be completed in a coming day when all wrongs will be righted and creation in totality will be set at rights. Whether the non-believers can ever swallow this Story is another question but it would mean (in my view) that they would be hearing the Bible's own message rather than a reduced version that isn't adequate for our needs.

Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan