Some of the More Important Lessons I've Learned

It is good to stretch yourself and to take on challenges that put you beyond your comfort zone, that cause you to have to learn new content or skills, though when you take on such challenges, things won't always work out the way you had thought they would.

When you screw up your work or your life or both, and you will, you can be forgiven, and you will still be loved, though you may find it hardest to forgive and love yourself.

When you love someone and make a commitment to them in marriage or friendship, it is important to be as honest as you can. "As you can" because not all honesty or truth-telling is loving. But beware that it is easy to deceive oneself and justify one's decision to be less than completely truthful.

You can base your whole life on being thankful. Gratitude for what is, is a good life philosophy.

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The Bible does not contain an internally consistent and coherent portrayal of God, and, therefore, Christians have to choose among the possible contruals. Finding valid criteria for such sense-making is not easy. It does not work to prioritize the New Testament over the Old Testament, since both contain the same inconsistent and incoherent presentation of the character of God. It doesn't work to prioritize Jesus' life and teaching over the rest because the sayings of Jesus as reported in the New Testament have been edited and shaped by the interests of the earliest Christians, and these portrayals of Jesus are not consistent or free from contradictions or paradoxes.

One option would be to remain agnostic about the nature of God as portrayed in Scripture, not, though about the existence of God. The latter is a different question. One could simply and legitimately say, the problem of God in the Bible is too difficult. But inevitably one has some "image of God" in mind, whether one reads the Bible and takes it seriously or not.

So I choose to be self-conscious about my understanding of God and to take responsibility for it. It seems inescapable to me, for reasons not altogether clear to me (is that the same thing as it being intuitive?), that I choose for the love and justice of God, as the chief, defining, and inalienable characteristics of God. When one makes this choice, one makes a wager on the nature of ultimate reality. I bet my life on the goodness and justice of God. I used to think one could get to this point by reason and good hermenutical principles. But I have now given up that quest after nearly five decades. My "theology", therefore, feels much more like a wager, a bet, on the nature of God.

Another consequence is that this choice then becomes heuristic for reading and appropriating the various stories and teachings in the Bible. Wherever God is portrayed as less than good, less than just, less than loving, less than merciful, and less than fiercely determined to put all things right (i.e., righteous), then those portrayals are to be seen as carrying a heavier load of limited, culturally and historically conditioned, understandably human and anthropomorphic understandings of God's character.

I do not believe that the inspiration of Scripture makes such discernment on our, the reader's, part unnecessary. The Bible is, in a sense, God's Word, but it is mediated though fully human words. The Bible mediates truth, but not apart from such discernment. The Spirit of God speaks through the Bible, but it is dangerous and even nonsensical to equate the words of the Bible with the Word of God. It is dangerous because of the peril of taking literally that which reflects the primarily human limited and skewed understanding of God, and it makes no sense because of the internal inconsistencies and contrary portrayals of who God is. This is a problem I have been wrestling with for about fifty years.

Comments

Mike Kopesec said…
Tom, your comments about the nature of inspiration and of the 'word of God' are insightful and thought-provoking...and gutsy ones to put out on the etable. I have struggled with such things for 5 decades myself. I started my journey with agnosticism; so now after 5 decades, have I circled back to the beginning? What you say seems to suggest that the human influences in the processes of revelation and inspiration are so ponderous that they overshadow and obscure the divine intent of self-disclosure...leaving me with nothing better than a 'your truth-my truth' relativism. Please set me straight.
Mike
Carol Wall said…
Tom, I so appreciate your freedom and the freedom you inspire to think creatively about God and Jesus. I for many years have felt that I am at the "outside edges" of the church because my beliefs "dream" and I think God is so much greater than we can concieve and his love broader than we imagine. Thank you.

Im glad I can connect this way with your ideas since my life schedule and other priorities have not enabled me to attend your classes in Coupeville as much as my heart is with being there. Theological education is a longing. thanks again.

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