| BIBLICAL LITERALISM AS THWARTING GOD’S PLAN FOR US
By: Jerry S. Maneker.
“Remember ye not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring
forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19-20)
Biblical literalism, the attempt to blindly impose biblical traditions and practices onto contemporary society, gives one
comfort in having a connection with those traditions, and which keep us in touch with our forbears in the faith.
Moreover, such literalism helps give us the illusion of “certainty” (http://www.radicalchristianity.net/Page4.html) in a very
uncertain, ever-changing world that seems to be running amok and seems to contend with, and blatantly challenge,
biblical principles that have hitherto defined “Christianity” in the eyes of many of those who profess its name and to
which they sincerely claim adherence. It’s that “old time religion” that was good enough for my forbears, so we are told,
so it’s good enough for me.
I once overheard two people say that Christianity has to change to keep up with the times. I didn’t intrude on their
conversation, but I thought at the time, as I do now, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Christianity. It’s many
professing Christians who have to change! As I’ve written so many times before, the only Gospel to be found in
Christianity is the Gospel of grace, faith, love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness. Blind adherence to traditions
that make void the Word of God (Matthew 15:3), as well as a biblical literalism that is equivalent to idolatry, have helped
create a “Christianity” and a “Church” that has become largely distorted and, hence, moribund and rather weak, in that
they are not viewed as being “relevant” to many people’s lives as people seek to navigate their lives in this world, and
seek to know who they are as children of God.
The Bible is certainly important as a means of keeping us grounded in the faith, of instructing us in the ways of God that
comprise doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with Him. (Micah 6:8) In addition, Scripture hammers home to
us that those of us who have incorporated Jesus into our lives by loving God, our neighbor as ourselves, and accepting
and embracing Jesus’ finished work on the Cross for the remission of all of our past, present, and future sins, are
assured of His blessed promise of salvation, reconciliation with God, and resurrection to eternal life. However, there is a
downside to strict biblical literalism that has infused both the “Church” and the secular culture with a legalistic,
exclusionary ethic that defines “Christianity” in the minds of many, and also seeks to place God in a box of literalists’
constructions that thwarts His will for our having a just society and for us living the abundant lives, the authentic lives,
and fulfilling ministries that He has ordained for us.
There is a beautiful hymn written by Natalie Sleeth that we sometimes sing in church entitled, “In the Bulb There is a
Flower.” Here are the words of this hymn: “In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in the cocoons, a
hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be, unrevealed
until its season, something God alone can see. There is a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there’s a
dawn for every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see. In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt
there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.”
This hymn fleshes out God’s hopeful statement to all of us: “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall
ye not know it?” By putting God in our man-made boxes, constructed by mere fallible human creatures who all too often
don’t realize that “…the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men,”
(1Corinthians 1:25), and that our “…faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1Corinthians
2:5), many professing Christians thwart God’s work in their lives, the lives of others, and life in this world in which we
must, as Christians, fight for social justice; most importantly, allow God to take control of our lives, and come to
appreciate and embrace the mystery of God and His work in the world.
This biblical faith trumps the needs that many professing Christians have to tenaciously hang on to biblical literalism,
man-made traditions, doctrines, creeds, rules, regulations, and assorted laws that have all too frequently come to define
the “Church” and Christianity itself in the minds of many, and have all too often thwarted and prevented people’s ability
to see what God can do in their lives and in the life of this world. Jesus came to set us free from bondage to anything or
anyone but Him!
As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, as He now writes to us, “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye
now made perfect by the flesh? (Galatians 3:3) Biblical literalism, not allowing God and His work in us and in this world
to trump man-made definitions and constructions of “the Christian life,” is of the flesh!
Let’s go back to the place where all Christians began: living in, and listening to, the Holy Spirit of God, that must trump
biblical literalism, man-made traditions, and every other obstacle to God’s doing His wonderful, mysterious, work in us
and in this world.