Monday, March 28, 2016

Biblical

I have a confession to make, and it may be a bit controversial. 

I don't like the word "biblical". 

Now, before you get all fired up, hear me out.  I love the Bible.  But I don't like what some have done or said in its name. 

Too often, the word "biblical" is used to keep people (or groups of people) down, to omit, or to rob of the grace freely given by God.  It's used to pick and choose the sins we allow and those we condemn. 

But it's not fair to pick and choose what sins to call out using the excuse that, "Hey, it's biblical." If you've ever studied any of Leviticus, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's full of rules about sexual behavior, dietary laws, guidelines for what makes someone unclean, procedures for proper animal sacrifice, and so on. We do not live in an Old Testament world. No one has to tell us not to sleep with our father's wife, or not to eat road kill, or to perhaps stay away from those who have questionable skin infections.  

Lots of behaviors are "biblical" but have evolved over time. Things once considered out-of-bounds are now seen as culturally acceptable: planting a field with two kinds of seed, or wearing clothes of different fabrics, touching a football, or eating shellfish, just to name a few. 

And choosing to narrowly focus on a few sins while ignoring the overreaching message of love of God and neighbor is missing the point entirely.  

It's like this quote from a recent blog post by Jen Hatmaker:

"If our only response is to speak the truth in love to the exclusion of the hundreds and hundreds of verses that call us toward mercy, peace, kindness, hospitality, and patience while leaving judgment to God, the only One able to judge fairly and correctly (James 4: 11-12), consequently also the only One who transforms and sanctifies, then I insist that you exercise that practice with every single sinner in your life. Every single one. Every single sin. Otherwise that obedience has no integrity. Every. Single. Sin. I want it called out in truth and love, I want it blogged about, I want it argued into legislation, I want it discussed in public forums outside of genuine relationships, I want articles, I want excommunications. I would respect a believer who calls out every sinner and sin around him in equal measure over one who selectively applies Scripture to certain categories. (I would not like that believer, but I would at least respect his consistency.)"

So, if you're going to call out sinners, make sure you call them out equally.  Perhaps start with yourself. 

This all brings me to a review of a book I recently read. Despite the title, I loved Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  Evans set out to live the biblical virtues laid out in both the old and new testament: gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace.  She focused on one virtue each month and choose several tasks to achieve each virtue, such as growing out her hair, calling her husband "master", learning to make her own clothes, covering her head, baking her own bread, rising before dawn, cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit, and remaining ceremonially impure for the duration of her menstrual cycle.  

Evans often felt torn between her evangelical upbringing and the feminist culture in which she grew up. As many other Christian women do, she struggled with balancing her role as a modern woman and lover of scripture.  She had been raised with clear messages about the limitations put on women by certain interpretations of the Bible. 

Much of the frustration and confusion women feel arises over the "woman of noble character" described in Proverbs 31. If you're not familiar with this passage of scripture, I encourage you to read it, then read this and this.

In short, Proverbs 31 is a poem written about the honor and beauty of a woman's work over the course of her life.  It is not a biblical prescription for how women, modern or otherwise, should live. It is not a how-to manual.  It is a blessing, often recited from husband to wife at the sabbath celebration, thanking her for using her creative energy to sustain the family, community, and culture.

This book came into my life at a critical time, and it gave me some peace and perspective.  For most of Maddie and Ava's early years, I was a working mother.  I have a master's degree in education and God-given teaching gifts that I was using in an elementary school setting.  But I was torn, because while I was using my gifts, I felt that "biblically" I was called to be a stay at home mother. I felt that I was somehow not fulfilling my role by working outside of the home.  And I felt that my life was not lining up with how the Bible called women to behave. 

So when the opportunity to stay home with my girls presented itself, I jumped at it.  I thought that finally I'd be living out my "biblical" role and life would be in balance.  But I quickly realized that maybe I wasn't quite cut out for the job.  That maybe I'm a better wife and mother when I have goals, aspirations, and friends outside of the home as well.  

Rachel Held Evans' book helped me to realize that the only woman God wants me to be is God's. God doesn't need me to be "biblical" or perfect, but to lean on the divine for support and guidance. I need to allow God space to work within me because virtues aren't items to collect but lessons to learn over time.  God is much more concerned with my heart than whether or not my head is covered, or if I've baked my own bread, or whether I'm ceremonially unclean.  

So, what words bother you, and why?

Is the Bible freeing you to be the child of God you really are, or is it setting up unrealistic expectations and frustrations?

Read any good books lately?

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