The Bible as a Manual For Living
The responsible theologian will not see the Holy Bible as the only Inspired Word of God, but he or she needs to recognize its profound content, and that it is probably the most familiar of inspirational works in our Western society. But the Bible, like its inspirational Author, is a paradox that is often relative to the reader of its words, very subject to interpretation, and needs to be approached with many considerations. Blake said it nicely: "Both you and I read the Bible day and night; but you see black where I see white. "
This paradoxical aspect of the Bible makes it a work that can play a positive or negative role in the lives of people, as well as in the society where it becomes readily accepted. By this we mean, that throughout history this book has been cited in different places and at different times to accomplish very different things - some good; some very evil.
No one would argue that the work has often been used as an impetus for freedom and human dignity. On the flip side, it has been quoted to justify slavery, rationalize oppression, exploit money and even persecute in the Name of God. The inspired words of the Bible can be used to foster the concepts of brotherhood, mercy, forgiveness, and love - or, they can be used to promote division and bigotry, encourage punishment and revenge, judge and condemn, and limit our ability to love (sometimes to the point where these words actually create hatred).
The Bible as a religious tool can help to instruct the faithful toward living a responsible life that encourages us to do what we can to make the world a better place for all we come in contact with. Or, it can turn them into magical thinkers who believe only God can solve the human problems which plague our societies. These are the dilemmas which face the theologian or clergyman in pursuit of the interpretation of the inspired word.
The outcome of interpretation, and its impact upon the faithful, is dependent upon how we approach this Sacred Work. It involves not only reading the words and considering the translations, but it also involves considering many of the psychological consequences of those interpretations. It involves looking at the work in the eyes of the people for whom it was written, for these words were written for a very different people who had a different intellect and culture, which was far removed from our own. It involves seeing the work in light of the knowledge of our times while applying such vision in a way that makes sense in the reality of our everyday world today.
Religions, if they are to be responsible, must consider that if the use of the Inspired Word of God causes alienation among people; causes guilt and fear; causes lack of individual responsibility; encourages indifference; or casts the solutions for all our problems unto God through prayer - that such a use is not beneficial to an individual or the society. When these things happen, the Word is no longer truth or holy, and as such cannot be the Inspired Word of the Divine. If interpretations are so magically oriented that they no longer give any practical meaning to our everyday reality, the interpreter has missed their responsibility toward God and the faithful they serve. If the Bible becomes a book about personal salvation, missing the importance of the interpersonal relationship of all living things, it can become as narcissistically oriented as the materialistic craze which drives so much of our society today. If the Bible is used as a tool to judge others, it becomes in direct violation of the Gospels of Jesus that it contains.
Like all of God's Revelation through myth, the Bible is inspiration for living; not dying. Its inspiration must empower us in the everyday realities we face; and, it should never have us looking to God for the solutions to the problems we create as men. God will guide us and aid us in those things beyond our abilities, but it becomes totally presumptuous and a misuse of Scripture to lead the faithful to believe that God is going to do for us the things we are capable of doing for ourselves - and that includes our personal as well as collective salvation! Again, like myth, the Bible should serve as an inspiration to make us more productive as individuals; not as a tool to control the actions and lives of others.
To illustrate what we are talking about here, let us examine a very common interpretation of what the scriptures say about our return to paradise. Most of the present religions declare that the Scriptures imply, that only through the destruction of all can God create a new Earth which contains all the joy we could ever hope for. While the Scriptures might imply that this New Earth is possible, they do not precisely state that God will make such for us, nor do they state we cannot attain this "paradise" as human beings. Yes, they do imply we need the help of God, but that is far different then a literal reading of God doing it for us.
Seen in a practical psychological view, the Scripture could be telling us that we must stop viewing things from our own narrow perspective and give birth to our spirituality as well as acknowledge our humanity. That we must destroy our selfishly motivated ideals and replace them with a more idealistic set of values which include all men and women.
Jesus, as well as many of the prophets, made it very clear that we need to take action to bring the New Earth into being, and this involves purging ourselves of many of the concepts we hold so dear. In effect, we can read the Scriptures symbolically and see that we can call on the Divine Image that is within us so that we can make the difference; instead of using such to justify our failures and weaknesses and placing the responsibility of changing the world in God's destructive hands. Religion is emphasizing that we can pray the world a better place, rather than encouraging us to make it a better place. Christianity has declared Jesus our savior instead of looking to Him as the example of personal salvation.
The tragedy of this orthodox perspective is that the metaphors of suffering, which are expressed in scripture, will come to pass if we do not accept our personal responsibility to change
our hearts and attitudes. More than anything else, the Bible tells us over and over that when we alienate ourselves from God we only hurt ourselves. The ideals which Christ expressed tell us that our salvation is in our love of one another as an expression of our love for God. The destruction in the Bible is not from God, nor is it inevitable; but is simply the road we lead ourselves down if we continue to ignore the simple message of Jesus. The destruction and rebirth are also metaphors to illustrate we must destroy selfishness in ourselves and be reborn in the compassion and love that is of God. When theology leads us to put more emphasis on faith in the Word, then in the reality of our actions, it simply is irresponsible.
A psychological interpretation of Scripture in its symbolic metaphors should lead us to personal responsibility, which is a far greater testimony to our faith than words of faith or prayer. Such interpretations should take us away from selfishness, pride, indifference, and the empty rhetoric which prevents us from solving so many of the truly evil aspects of our societies, such as, poverty, bigotry, intolerance, and ignorance. It should encourage us to use our diversity, celebrate our uniqueness and use such to contribute to the world; rather then, leading us to a self-righteousness that has us looking down on those who may differ from us.
A proper use of Scripture could help us solve the real problems in the real world at both a personal and a social level. But religion must take care that it does not tell people how to live; instead, it should strive to help them find a meaning for their personal lives. This meaning will be different and unique for every individual with inspirations being utilized to empower individuals so that they can serve God and humanity in their particular uniqueness. A proper use of Scripture will have us seeing the Glory of God, instead of, emphasizing the weaknesses and failures of men.
Responsible theology must begin to view the Bible as a revelation that applies its metaphors to God's chosen people who are each and every one of us in all our differences. Its stories are about the living of life and the trials and tribulations we face in that life. The battles and struggles contained in this holy book are the battles and struggles that we wage within ourselves. This book gives us insight to life according to a Divine Plan. It warns us what life is like when we choose to follow the idols that are created in our sense of narcissism and ego-fulfilling materialism. It's pages shout at us, that despite our individual uniqueness, we are part of something greater - part of a whole that God loves equally. When we fail that whole, we fail God; which ultimately leads to failure of the self.
If theology is to be responsible, it must quit viewing the Bible as a history book, for it is not. It is an inspiration to be utilized in the world of the now; not literally, but in the application of principles. We must cease from seeing the Bible as a book of law, as the literal Word of God, as a religious constitution or manifest; recognizing that it is only an inspiration that can provide guidance to a diverse set of problems that we as human beings face in the process of living. It is a book that provides more than one approach, more than one answer because God realizes the diversity of His creation.
Instead of seeing the Bible as a revelation of Divine Truth, responsible theology needs to view it as God's metaphors to help us make sense of the things we cannot understand. It conveys in its messages that we ultimately come from God, that we are part of God and that death will return us to God. We cannot use it as literal truth about the beyond, but as a tool of hope that can help us relate to a transcendent which is beyond our intellectual abilities to comprehend. Responsible religion will quit using the Bible as literal answers to questions we all have; instead, using the inspiration of such to offer hope, comfort, and assurances about our mortality that are otherwise not possible. To use the Bible in a literal fashion to answer these questions is only to drive the rational mind away from its inspirational splendor.
If we are to approach the Bible as a manual for living, we need to recognize that it is one of many revelations that can help us relate to a Creative Force in the confines our mortality. It's a manual that can help us see an Almighty far beyond us in terms of a loving parent and a caring friend. Its pages tell us that this immense Power does care, takes notice to what we do, and sees us as active participators in the molding of the creation She has set in motion.
We err when we see the Bible as Dogma, for it is truly a book on spiritual psychology which can help us harmonize the realities we experience with those that affect us from the transcendent.
Theology errs when it sees the Bible as an end unto itself; when it should be viewing it, as one of many means to attaining an end. And religion fails when it sees the Bible as a book of Laws; instead of a simple philosophy by which we can all live in a wide variety of ways.
When we begin to look at the Bible as a manual for living, we will not see it as a book riddled with contradictions; but rather, as a book full of different choices that help us address both the Paradox of God Herself and the paradox of the eternal now in which we exist.
In the end, responsible theology must come to see that the Bible is no more than a tool, and like any other tool, only when it is used correctly can it produce what it was designed to produce. We all know that tools misused can be dangerous. A responsible theologian must be a master craftsman that utilizes the tools to produce that which can be appreciated by all. He or she will teach others to use their tools in a proper manner so that what is produced will be safe and beneficial to all who come to it.
Too many people are being left out in much of our orthodox interpretations. Religion is painting a picture of a God who is a rejecter of all that differs from Him; when in reality, She is the Creator of all diversity.
The miracles of the Bible are another area where the theology often becomes irresponsible using an approach that places the onus of change upon the power of God, rather than, the will and intellect of the human. Religion often fails to see that God works His miracles through the natural order She created, which includes human beings who have opened their hearts and minds to a more profound view of the world around them. The miracles of the Bible are most often delivered through the actions or efforts of a human being. Symbolically, this should tell us that we are the deliverers of God's power, and the more of us who allow God to inspire us, the more miracles He can work.
For example. We can argue over the historical reality of the Great Flood for generations and never resolve it. But responsible theology would have no need to argue over the historical reality, because it is not important. The flood is a tale about our fate when we choose to alienate ourselves from God and the creation around us. The story can tell us of our foolishness when we ignore the Divine as expressed in our actions toward each other and our responsibilities to this garden Earth. It's a tale of how we should be observant and prepare by building our own ark. It is a story of personal responsibility for the things around us. We are all Noah, having our purpose of being, and the ark we build reaches out beyond us as individuals to all of God's creation. This metaphor can be used to see that there are consequences for irresponsible actions in our world. It can also imply that God thinks as much of Her animal kingdom as He does of man, for they too were saved. And it tells us that God looks out for us, but we must listen for Her Inspiration and then act upon it, just as Noah did - sometimes even in the face of ridicule or danger.
Fighting over the historical fact serves no purpose. Using it to scare people into serving God has even less purpose. But looking for symbolic messages that can aid us in our personal lives; messages that lead us to greater environmental responsibility; messages that teach us to live in love, brotherhood and harmony; essentially messages that move us to act more than believe - can make such tales a constructive part of our lives and bring God's inspiration into the reality of our everyday world. How could approaching Scripture in this manner be any less than serving the Will of God? Which would be the greater accomplishment: Getting someone to believe that the great flood happened, or, motivating one to change their actions by feeling the moral of the tale?
Outside the reasoning of practicality just given, there are other logical reasons we should look to scripture as a symbolic tool of revelation; at least if we want to respond to the criteria of responsibility.
Our society uses the word Bible, like it is one single and unique book. The truth is there are a wide variety of Bibles available, some which differ in many ways. To name just a few: The King James Version, The New King James Version, The Revised Standard Bible, The Living Bible, The New Century Bible, The Jerusalem Bible, The New International, The American Standard, and the New English Bible (from which most of the quotes in this work are taken). Many of these works have their own agenda and translate the language to fit the agenda, especially when we are talking of literal interpretations. If we are to proclaim the Bible as the Written Word of God, than we must define which one is the actual word for they differ.
Another problem is that in proclaiming the Bible as God's written word, we must then concede that some men have the right to speak with the authority of God, for not one word of the Bible is written by God's hand. The reality is: the most we can assert about scripture is that it is the word of inspired men - but men, nevertheless!
It becomes irresponsible for theology to go beyond the assertion that the Sacred Bible is inspired. In many respects, to proclaim a work that was written by men (even inspired men), that was compiled by men (often who had an agenda), a book that is translated by men, an ultimately interpreted by men: as the Word of God; is not only arrogant but in fact boarders blasphemy. To strive to interpret this so-called "Word" in a literal sense for today's world, when it was delivered to a completely different world, is complete madness.
The problem really begins because religions and theology approach the Bible in the wrong manner. They are seeking to learn about God and what God's relationship with man is - as if the book were somehow about God. But the reality is, the Bible is really a book about a particular people and their ongoing discovery and relationship with God. We must keep in mind that this inspiration was to a particular people, the Jews, and even the New Testament because of its dependency on the Old, falls into that category by extension. What is inspired in the Bible is the metaphor which is tailored to an ancient Jewish perception and understanding. We can apply this criteria to many other inspired works, and when viewed in this way, we will see that while delivered differently the messages become the same.
Again, if we are to assert any substantial truth about the Bible, what we need to recognize is that this book, while inspired, is about the discovery of' and relationship with the Jewish people and their concept of God. The book was really written for Jews and by Jews to preserve their culture, history, and religious beliefs using their religious metaphors.
Recognizing this reality dose nothing to challenge the validity of the inspiration in the Bible, but it should cause anyone who seeks God's inspiration to pause and reflect about the bias and limitations of the work. Men, in general, are simply to limited (much more even then) to record God's ideals. Adding to that a single culture with an established belief structure, complicates things even more. Our ignorance, our biases, our desires to make everything black and white and our inability to understand the reality of the Divine Intellect: all make an infallible recording of God's words impossible. Yet, all inspiration contains guidance that can enhance human life if it is approached in the right manner. Any revelation, be it scriptures, myths, or other forms which inspires us to be better citizens of a world community - is serving the Will of God.
Another area where we theologically err is in our attempting to approach these works as if they are about a life in the beyond. While such inspiration eludes to the fact that through the proper use of this life there is something to be gained in the next, that next life is so transcendent of what we can understand it can only be expressed in symbol and metaphor. We need to approach inspiration according to its practical application to life, not for its definitions of afterlife. Thus again, much of our present religion has created this elaborate and specific ideal of reward and punishment and thus misses the broader meaning that would be much more constructive in the everyday lives of people.
Too often, we are using Scripture to a much greater degree to appease our fear of death than using it constructively to enhance the quality of our lives. This emphasis of the beyond has lead to a condition that lessens the value of the gift of life, which leads so many of our religious ideals to stress the weaknesses of human nature; instead of, encouraging us to draw upon our strengths.
A much more constructive approach towards scripture would be to seek out concrete messages for living; rather than using it as a manual for how to live to die. There is sound and practical advice throughout the pages of these works and it is up to responsible theology to utilize these works to improve the human condition; as opposed to controlling what ought to be a personal relationship between an individual and their God. The paradox of the Divine makes Her universal and the all, while at the same time being personal and unique for every human being. Religion can only offer guidance. It is overstepping its authority if it declares laws or precepts in the Name of the Almighty. It is the role of religion to bring the reality of God into our everyday lives - not to declare Her Will! As long as men continue to use Scripture to justify declaring the Will of God it will remain a dangerous and threatening tool.
What the Bible really says to us: if we waste life in selfish pursuits we will experience a personal hell that is both painful and long lasting. If we strive to fulfill our purpose of being, we will gain a most lasting treasure. Our sense of failure, or accomplishment in life is our punishment or reward. In a sense, heaven and bell are not places, but rather, they are states of being which cannot otherwise be described to our limited senses. Think about what it would be like to discover the entire meaning to life only to find that we have wasted a most wonderful opportunity that might not come our way again. What greater hell could there be?
If we look at the concept of God communicating with us in a similar manner as we communicate with our children, we can get a better grasp of God's inspiration. Any intelligent adult will communicate with a child according to the child's ability to relate with what they are saying. Considerations in this communication might involve the age of a child, the personality of the child, the intelligence of the child, and the importance of the message we are trying to communicate. And despite all the precautions we might take to communicate with our children, they still very often hear what they want to hear instead of the ideal we are trying to convey.
This concept of story or symbol to convey our ideals to one another is as old as communication itself. In fact, the very words on this page are nothing but symbols which convey the ideas here contained. Ideas, no matter how profound, are not of themselves truths. A truth, as we are defining it here, is something that stands in reality and no words of themselves can be considered truth. What 'has been', 'is', or 'will be' accomplished with the words are the only testimony to their truth. This is why psychologists so often emphasize to parents, that no matter how well they try to teach their children, it is what the child sees of the actions of the adults around them that most often builds their character. It is not our knowledge of the Bible that saves us but the application of its messages in the reality of our lives.
Many of our clergymen need to shift the emphasis from preaching the Word, to setting the example by living it! We need to stop emphasizing chapter and verse and look for the psychological and philosophical wisdom contained in the many books of the Bible.
As already stated, the Bible is not a universal book
written by God about God. It is Her way of conveying
ideals to the Jewish people through the inspiration of Jewish authors. What
this means is that in a literal sense it is not an inspiration for all people,
and it can never be taken literal, although there can be literal truth in it.
For example, the Bible does record many people and places which actually
existed and in such cases we could assume that it validly expresses some of
their beliefs. But if we look to a book like Deuteronomy, (20:15-18) where God
orders the Jews to kill everyone residing in the promised land, in fact, a
genocide of all peoples who differ from them; are we to see this in a literal
sense today? Should the Jews be killing the Palestinians living in
So where do we find the inspiration of God in Scripture? We find it in the same place as we find it in myths, or the Vedas, or the Koran, or in the liturgies of primitive peoples all over the world. The inspiration is in the universal messages the work contains, messages which are conveyed in a thousand different forms yet all say the same things. Some of the more obvious include: universal brotherhood, self discovery, compassion, personal messiahship, a rebirth from our materialistic natures. These works can offer us a variety of individualized roads to pursue these ideals. And while these writings do convey the weaknesses and failures of man, they also show many of our triumphs and strengths. Above all, they communicate that we are capable of more because we come from more. They reveal to us that reality contains elements that are far beyond our ability to perceive or understand. To literalize, to dogmatize, or to sanctify; the Inspiration of God in any work, is to limit its potential and defeat the purpose of inspiration.
The Bible can be utilized as a manual for living but it must be approached with the recognition that it is about life. The responsible theologian must constantly keep his or her feet planted in the firmness of realities which we can understand, utilizing the information to better relate to that reality. As we move into the next century we need more than ever to find the inspiration that has been given, applying it in a practical manner in our dealings with one another, our social structure, and our relationship with the natural order around us.
Jesus gave us the truest insight into Scripture that a responsible theologian can apply. To find the truth of God's inspiration, we need to love in the manner Jesus demonstrated, and in this way the truth of all inspiration will become self-evident in the example of who and what we are. Once we continue this journey we will find that the inspiration of the printed word will be self-evident in our own heart, and then, God can inspire each one of us to write the scriptures that are needed in one's own personal life. If we choose to see the Bible as a book that is finished it is our great loss, for God is still inspiring through each and every one of us. Each of us has the potential to be a prophet, a savior, and a representative of God because every one of us is a child of the same Creative Force. We are all prophets, evangelists, messiahs, and apostles and we can all contribute to God's Kingdom of the here and now according to our particular ability. That is the great message contained in all revelation!
Please Email us with your thoughts and questions.
Post your thoughts on our Message Board.
Sign our Guestbook.