Can you believe in God and not believe that the Bible is the “word of God”?

You didn't do what I told you to do...A minister friend posted this graphic on my Facebook timeline a couple of days ago. It reminded me of the first time I read the Flood story in Genesis while wearing my thinking cap. I came face-to-face with the inexplicably heinous, unforgiving and inhumane behavior that scriptural storytellers have attributed to God. And they tell us this is the “Word of God“.

I understand why and how it was created. Culture, limited knowledge religious politics and the scribes’ proximity to mythical storytelling played huge roles in the disparate collection of books. What I don’t understand is why, three centuries later, after literacy went viral, 25% of Americans still believe that everything in the Bible is true.

That figure is questionable. If 25% really believed that the Bible is the “word of God,” there would be more murders and their defense would be based on scripture.

The same people who claim that the Bible is inerrant call genocide inhumane and murder immoral.  So do they really believe it? I don’t think most of them understand what they believe.

Case in point: Yesterday morning’s encounter with a Chicago bus driver. As I greeted her and paid my fare, the driver responded with a heightened sense of delight.

Next stop: Eternal Damnation

“I’m so grateful that you got on my bus!” Her face was aglow, making me quickly flip through my mental Rolodex to see if we’d previously met.

She leaned toward me. “May I ask you something?”

“Sure.” I quickly regretted my automatic response.

“Do you go to church?” Oh no, is she going to try to give me a sermon before I sit down? I wondered.

“On occasion,” I responded, looking around at the other passengers. Had she asked everyone that question? Their faces weren’t giving up that information.

She wanted to know my opinion about something. For the full five minutes that I was on the bus, she talked about her young minister, who seemed to be involved in some suspicious activities.

“He’s going straight to hell!” she said, authoritatively. “I’m saved. But if they rest of them aren’t careful, they’re going to end up there right along with him, and wonder how they got there!”

She was referring, of course, to the concept described in the graphic that Rev. Bobby had shared: According to scripture, God knew that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen. 8:21). Scripture also tells us that God created us. So if we were born sinners, that means God created us that way intentionally. Despite that, human sinfulness outrages Him.

According to scripture, “So God announced to Noah, ‘I’ve decided to destroy every living thing on earth, because it has become filled with violence due to them. Look! I’m about to annihilate them, along with the earth.'” (Gen. 6:13)

True to His word, the scriptural God flooded Earth and “everything on the dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died” (Gen. 7:22).

The fluctuating Great Flood

Being omniscient and all, God knew what the flood’s outcome would be. Afterward, He apparently regretted it. Yes, according to the Bible, God makes mistakes. It says that when the waters receded 150 days later (Gen. 8:3), I mean, on the 17th day of the seventh month (Gen. 8:4), no, it was ten months later (Gen. 8:5), perhaps it was after 40 days (Gen. 8:6), or for sure, the 27th day of the second month (Gen. 8:14). OK, whenever the waters receded, God did a mea culpa. Perhaps he regretted leaving all those smelly, water-soaked carcasses strewn in the path of the ark survivors. Gross! 

He promised, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen. 9:11). Don’t exhale yet. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t plan to commit genocide again. Apparently, the scriptural God created a new batch of sinful kids. And He’s hopping mad about it.

But He’s holding to his promise: No more vicious flooding. This time, He plans to throw His sinful children into a fiery pit where they will writhe in pain throughout all eternity—because we won’t stop acting like we were born as sinners. It’s simply distressing. And no one was more concerned about it than my bus driver.

“They don’t know The Word’!” she declared, in a huff.

How ironic: It was Saturday. And Girlfriend was working. According to The Word, that infraction is punishable by death.

Do the faithful really believe that the Bible is the Word of God?

The Word of God? If a husband finds that his wife is not a virgin, she shall be stoned to death. Deut. 22:13-14I know what they tell the pollsters, their pastors and any potential person who needs to be saved from God’s demonic punishment. But how many Bible literalist would also insist that everyone who works on Saturday should be murdered? (Ex. 31:14) How many of them believe that women who are not virgins when they marry should be killed? (Deut. 22:13-21) Are they on board with murdering adulterers (Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:22) or disrespectful children (Ex. 21:17)?

Among the Blacks who believe the Bible is God’s word, how many believe that God said, “You may buy male and female slaves from among the nations that are around you. You may also buy from among the strangers…and they may be your property. You may bequeath them to your sons after you to inherit as a possession forever” (Lev. 25:44-46)?

While I, too, reject any depiction of God as violent, vindictive, unforgiving or anthropomorphic, as described in the Bible, I do not reject the concept of a Divine Presence, the invisible, invincible, immortal and everywhere present spirit that I call “God”. Do not mistake me: There is a lot of wisdom and truth in the Bible. But everything in the Bible does not offer wise, humane or moral solutions to human problems; so I cannot imagine that it is God’s word. I believe that God would be more consistent. God’s book wouldn’t command me not to kill AND then provide dozens of reasons for me to commit murder.

The argument generally is that God changed from the Old Testament to the New. So, God is not absolute? What changed from the Old Testament to the New was man’s concept of God—and it’s still evolving beyond rejection, and the excessive and demonic punishment that’s attributed to God and Jesus in the New Testament.

Perhaps I’m weird: Once I see something in a book that is blatantly untrue, hyperbolic or inconsistent, I conclude that it is not a non-fictional work. If a book asserts that God does things that are clearly inhumane and demonic, and that God mandates me to do horrific things such as stone someone to death, I am not convinced that it’s the Word of God. But I give loving allowance to those who believe God wants them to wear a fashionable orange jumpsuit for the rest of their lives.

I could be wrong; but I must make a choice. Worship a God who is divine and does what Love does, or worship the God in the Bible, who is frighteningly demonic. Am I off-base here?

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God and Man in Tucson

British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton once wrote: “The more I study religions, the more I am convinced that man never worshipped anything but himself.” Or, as my best friend in high school, now the Rev. Vici Derrick, chuckles, “God made man in His image—then man returned the favor.”

We live in a world in which humans have faithfully embraced ancient authors’ portrayals of God as an angry being who vindictively and violently killed humans to solve problems and silence dissent. Thousands of years later, we vigorously defend ancient scribes’ mandates to “put to death” humans who commit sins ranging from being impudent children to murdering a member of the human family.

A human—or a committee of them—declared everything the scribes wrote was the inspired “Word of God.” If we believe that, why are we shocked and repulsed by incidents such as the executions in Tucson and Pakistan? Why do we call these murders “brutal,” “demonic” and “senseless?” Why do we label the killers zealots, sociopaths and terrorists, if we really believe what we say we believe?

Lit candle

Holding us in Light

Tolerance and forgiveness are divine, not vindictiveness and violence. It is humans who are prone to respond with vitriol and violence. It is humans who must be taught to be civil and accepting of others. It is humans who must be encouraged to love. These virtues are not innate human characteristics.

Have we forgotten the barbaric times in which humans lived? Can we imagine how difficult it must have been for the ancients when they tried to describe God, tried to make sense of their dangerous world and bring some order to it, and when they tried to explain why natural disasters occur and how the world began?

The only context they had was human context. Man at that time solved problems through violence. They may have reasoned that if their world was dangerous and violent, that must be how God is—and how God planned it to be. Or perhaps to justify their behavior, they declared it godly: They were merely mimicking the Huge Human in the sky.

And so they passed down to us a who God is angry, volatile, vindictive, judgmental, violent and mostly unforgiving. They told us—and told us to tell others—that God ordered us to be angry, volatile, vindictive, violent and mostly unforgiving.

Have you ever taken time to count the multitude of reasons that the Word of God says that members of our human family “shall be put to death”? If our ancestors obeyed the word of God, the human race would have been extinct ages ago.

So why do millions of us still believe today that God’s response to human error is brutality: torturing innocent individuals to death so that the guilty could go free or bragging that He drowned “every living thing”? Why do we believe that God would accept an impotent demon’s challenge to inhumanely test a good man’s faith by killing all of his children, drying up his crops and making him suffer untold physical and emotional pain? Why do we believe that God will satanically torture us throughout all eternity for our indisputably finite period of human error? And why do we believe that if humans did any of these horrific things, it would be appalling, unacceptable, deranged—and criminal?

We don’t believe that it’s OK to kill politicians who disagree with us, whether it’s Tucson or Pakistan! Why is it OK, defensible—it’s even worthy to be praised when God commits these inhumane acts? Are we subconsciously holding God to a lower standard than ego-driven humans?

We are accountable for own our double standard. We can’t say that it’s unacceptable for humans to solve problems by killing people, while simultaneously proselytizing that God sinks to such a low, human, and sometimes demonic standard of behavior.

The irony is not lost on us that the youngest victim of the mass murder in Tucson reportedly was born on September 11, 2001—the day when other individuals chose to solve a problem with violence. What was the human response? Claim that God told us to solve that problem with violence. Throughout that child’s lifetime, we tried to solve the problem violently. We inspired support for the violence by fanning the flames of fear.

And how’d that work for us? How many lives did we save? How many families did we destroy? How many young men and women have suffered sustained mental and physical injury?

Historically, the toll for for miscasting God in our vindictive, violent image has been high. Blindly believing in the drama written by ancient scribes has actually breathed life into the demon they created. Every time we treat someone in ways that we would not want to be treated, we feed the demon and share responsibility for its continued destruction around the globe, in homes and parking lots, on city streets and rural countrysides.

Perhaps it’s time to stop worshipping our ego-driven human selves long enough to learn what the murderers and murdered are teaching us: Violence destroys; it is ungodly. True power and true victory come from living as if we were created in God’s true image—as the spirit of Unconditional Love and Forgiveness.