God Doesn't Have a Plan for Your Life

(and this is good news)

God loves you, and has a wonderful plan for your life. Have you ever heard that one before? It’s often tied to a cherry-picked out of context reading of Jeremiah 29:11:

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.

Here’s the thing: This verse isn’t about me or you. It’s about Judah in exile, wondering if they would ever leave Babylon to return home to rebuild after the catastrophic events of 587 BCE. But, we can do all things through a verse taken out of context.

Snark aside, I don’t think God actually has an individualized plan for our lives, and this is really good news. Think about it for a minute. If God has a plan for your life, a specific plan, for if you’ll get married or who you’ll marry or where you’ll work or what you’ll have for lunch next Tuesday, or for anything really, then life becomes nothing but pressure and anxiety. What if we miss that plan? How do I find out what the plan is? Prayer? Reading the Bible? Asking someone? All of that is subjectivity, and when you’re seeking an objective plan that has your name on it, that’s maddening.

This idea of a predetermined plan that we are just trying to discover and live out removes all the creativity, passion, and joy from the process of being human. It’s also just impossible, right? How do you know that you found the right person/career/whatever for which you’re looking? It’s an endless cycle or worry, fear, and what if-ism. What if out of the seven billion people on this planet, I don’t find “the one” that God picked out for me? What if I discover the career path “God wills” for me, but I absolutely hate it? What if I don’t get it all right and aligned? What if I miss some sign or some opportunity that was all part of God’s plan for me? Part of this thinking, with which so many of us were indoctrinated, is the idea that joy is the enemy. If I like it, if it is fun or exciting, if I want it, then it’s probably wrong and off limits. It’s almost as if God’s will, in this previous understanding, is the path of anti-joy, right? We just gotta be obedient and miserable, because that proves our faithfulness to God.

Is there an alternative to this perspective? If the whole “God has a plan for your life” isn’t how it works, then how might it work? I do think that the Reality and Mystery the word God points us toward (but can’t define or contain) does have a hope or even a “will” for us. However, this will is collective, not individualized. It has less to do with what we do for a job, where we eat lunch, or who we marry as individuals, and more to do with the kinds of communities and societies we create. Let’s put it this way: God’s plan means that we are invited, even pulled, toward a certain way of being and a certain way of living with one another.

God’s plan, in which we are invited to participate, is for human flourishing. It’s about humans creating sustainable, equitable, just, and generous communities where everyone has enough and their belovedness is affirmed and celebrated.

Here’s the good news part: There are lots of ways to do that. There isn’t a planned out, predetermined recipe. We get to be creative and innovative. We get to pursue what we love, that which inspires us and brings us joy. You aren’t being forced into a cookie cutter mold of who you “should” be or what you “should” want. Actually, maybe there are no shoulds. We are being invited to join the Divine in the process of pursuing justice and goodness, and we’re free to do that in the ways that make us most fully and wonderfully alive. Is it possible that this is the point? That the more fully alive we become, the more engaged in this work of creating a planet on which all humans can flourish we become? I think so.

So, my friends, innovate. Be creative. Pursue that which brings you joy and fills you with life. The only limits are those of your own imagination. Then take all of that goodness, and find ways to join in the journey of creating a world where all human beings can do the same. Knowing our deep belonging and belovedness, and making sure others do, too, is the work of being human. After all, human flourishing is God’s great longing for each one of us.

Quote of the week:

Frederick Buechner:
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

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A Halloween Q+R

The Devil, Hell, Demons, + Ghosts, oh my!

(This post originally released last Halloween. It has been updated and edited from its original form)

Here’s this week’s Q:

What’s your take on the devil, hell, demons, angels, ghosts, etc. ?

The R:

I’ve been saving this question for this Halloween weekend. It just felt right. I think many of us would assume that the devil, hell, and demons have always been part of the faith Tradition, but that just isn’t the case.

The devil, as a figure, doesn’t appear at all in the Hebrew Bible. There is a word, that pops up in the Hebrew scriptures that is transliterated into English as “Satan.” However, in the Hebrew text the word Satan is preceded by the definite article, making it ha-satan, or “The Satan.” This isn’t a personal name, but a title. In the Bible it’s used attributively. Let’s look at an example:

Numbers 22:22 - This is the story of Balaam and the talking donkey. The text reads, “God's anger was kindled because he (Balaam) was going, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the road as his adversary.

It’s important to note that “angel of the Lord” is often used to talk about God, so when that occurs in the text, we can understand it to be a reference to God, indirectly. This verse calls God Balaam’s Satan!

This usage also pops up in the Hebrew text to refer to various kings who are acting as Israel’s adversaries. Their name isn’t “Satan,” they are being Ha-Satan, the Adversary.

The reference many of us probably think of for the Satan is found in Job, where God and the Satan end up in a kind of contest to see if Job will remain faithful when his life falls apart. In this story, the Satan is a kind of prosecuting attorney, surveying the world and reporting back to God. The Satan is part of God’s council, not God’s cosmic opponent or opposite.

It wasn’t until after the Babylonian exile, and the subsequent interaction with the Persian empire, that the Jewish Tradition incorporated several elements: Satan/Devil, as a cosmic evil figure, demons, and even the afterlife were imported into the Tradition during this period (c.586-539 BCE). All Jews didn’t embrace these theological shifts, one particular group being the Sadducees, who were the maintainers of the Jerusalem Temple. They didn’t incorporate these new ideas into their understanding. We are told in the New Testament “Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him (meaning Jesus, Luke 20:27),” and asked a question about the next life (which they didn’t believe in). The Pharisees, on the other hand, were more liberal (shocking, right?) and embraced these new ideas. There is little doubt in my mind that the emergence of Satan, demons, and an afterlife came from this interaction during the exilic period.

One final note. There is a text in Isaiah 14:12, which says, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!” The KJV renders it, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” The word translated Day Star, or Lucifer in the KJV, is heylel in Hebrew, and it means “Shining One.” It’s often assumed to be about the fall of the king of Babylon, but many scholars believe it is actually about the king of Assyria, likely Sargon II, not some devil figure.

About hell: I recently wrote a post that describes what I think about hell that you can read here. In short, I don’t believe hell is a literal place where people go to be tortured for all eternity. I do believe in hell in two ways. First, there’s the actual geographical location of Gehenna (the Greek word translated as “hell”) just outside the city of Jerusalem. Gehenna means, “Valley of Hinnom,” and in Jesus’s day it was a garbage dump. During the era of the Kings, Gehenna was the site of child sacrifice. The image of a place of waste, where these terrible things happened, with a fire that is constantly burning, is a powerful one. I now read these texts as warnings from Jesus about what will happen if the people choose armed resistance against Rome (which happened in 70 CE).

The second way I believe in hell is as a reality in this life and this world. We tend to focus on afterlife destinations, but there are so many people living in hell on earth, right here, right now Some are living in hells of their own making, but so many others are living in hells that  others have created for them because of the injustices and unjust systems that are being perpetuated against them. I believe that Jesus’s message speaks to both the invitation to leave the hells of our own making, and to the call to actively work to dismantle the hells we have created for others. (Click to Tweet) In terms of the afterlife, I am generally agnostic. I don’t know what happens when we die, and I am trying to avoid finding out for as long as possible. However, I will say that I share the sentiment of Marcus Borg when he said,

“So, is there an afterlife, and if so, what will it be like? I don't have a clue. But I am confident that the one who has buoyed us up in life will also buoy us up through death. We die into God. What more that means, I do not know. But that is all I need to know."

About demons, ghosts, etc.: I love watching suspenseful movies about these things, and hearing people share stories about their experiences and encounters. Alas, I must say I am generally skeptical about their reality. Yet, I also know that just because I can’t fathom it doesn’t make it untrue. This weekend, however, I will suspend skepticism and have a good time watching the movies and hearing the stories. I can always pick my skepticism back up on November 1st. 

I hope you have a great Halloween weekend! 

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Five Misconceptions About the Bible

Part Five: The Word of God?

Here we are, the final week of our series Five Misconceptions About the Bible. Before we begin I wanted to note that I think there are many more misconceptions about the Bible than just these five. My gut was a series called 2,857 Misconceptions About the Bible might be a bit too much, so I opted for the five I see popping up frequently in my own interactions and conversations. I’d love to hear from you on this. What misconceptions, that I haven’t covered, do you encounter most? Feel free to share in the comments or email me at josh@joshscott.online. Now, on to misconception number five.

This one can be a bit of a doozie, and people often react passionately about it. The final misconception I want to explore is about the Bible being the Word of God. Simply stated, I do not believe that the Bible, in and of itself, in its entirety, is the Word of God, but sometimes we can hear the Word of God through the Bible. Let me add to that, this is actually really good news.

First, the claim as often stated is that the Bible is the Word of God BECAUSE the Bible says so. Here’s the problem with that: the Bible wasn’t written in one setting, by one author. It emerged over time, from the pen of several authors, representing several communities. The Bible, then, can’t talk about the Bible because when the Bible was being written the Bible didn’t exist. (Yes, the very nature of that sentence should help us see the problem.)

The phrase “Word of the Lord” appears often in the Bible. For example, many of the Hebrew prophets begin their writing with a description of their call to take up the mantle of prophet. Notice how Jeremiah begins:

The LORD’s word came to me:

“Before I created you in the womb I knew you;

before you were born I set you apart;

I made you a prophet to the nations.”

(Jeremiah 1:4-5, CEB)

What do we imagine that moment being like for the prophet? An Amazon drone drops off a package that, when opened, contained a scroll with canonical scripture written on it? I say that tongue in cheek, but the point is important. The “Word of the Lord” isn’t a text, but an inspired message the prophet is called to share. That understanding is paradigmatic for the prophets, who were commissioned as the mouthpiece of the Divine. Their message was often one of doom, and that doom was coming because of the injustices that were being systemically perpetuated by those in power. Prophets were a challenge, not just to the religious establishment, but also to those with political and economic power. Our spiritual ancestors understood what we still miss: Religion, economics, and politics are intimately and intricately connected. They cannot be parsed out and separated. They are wedded together, and we are deceiving ourselves and perpetuating injustice if we continue to pretend that that isn’t the case.

The inspired Word received by the prophets in some cases was written down, and those words about the Word were included in the library we know as the Bible. The written word is a witness to the Word experienced by and expressed through living, breathing human beings. Seeing all the words found in the Bible as the Word of God is problematic because the ways our spiritual ancestors thought about and wrote about God were a product of their contexts. In the best moments in scripture we see our ancestors taking steps—even giant leaps—forward in their understanding of God. They were invited to move forward into a new understanding and experience of the Divine, and they stepped faithfully in that direction. At other times the limitations of their context come through. God does not command genocide, endorse slavery, misogyny, xenophobia, or homophobia. Sadly, God often becomes a source for defending our own prejudices and biases, then and now. This doesn’t make our ancestors “all bad” or mean they have nothing to teach us. The opposite is true, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “These things happened to them as an example and were written as a warning for us…”

Our ancestors learned and grew over time, and that process of changing perspectives when better information becomes available is what faithfulness looks like. Here’s an example: The Law of Retaliation. In Leviticus there’s a law that focuses on the scope of retaliation allowed when someone harms another. You may only take eye for an eye, or tooth for tooth. In its context, this is a progressive leap forward in limiting violence. It caps retaliation to tit for tat, meaning you can’t just go kill someone because they cut off your finger. It creates a proportional response. The problem becomes when this command, intended to limit violence, ends up doing the opposite by becoming an excuse for violence. When Jesus enters the story, not as an outsider trying to start a new religion, but as a member of the Jewish Tradition and a participant in wrestling with and shaping what the Tradition would become, he takes the command and invites the Tradition forward. Not only does he call the Tradition away from violence, but he also enacts a call to practice love of our enemy.

These examples are throughout scripture. Again and again we see our ancestors wrestling with the received text and Tradition, and when the Spirit calls, transcending into a new understanding. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as Jesus says to his disciples (and us):

“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. (John 16:12-13, CEB)

It seems a more accurate way to describe the Bible is that, at times and in places, the Bible is a witness to the Word of God. I am reminded of the statement by the Swiss theologian Karl Barth said:

“The Word became flesh – and then through theologians it became words again.”

This reminds me that the word “Word” here doesn’t mean, well, a word. It means the dynamic, creative, ordering energy that gave birth to, and holds together, all of creation. That same Word bubbled up in the bellies of the prophets, who spoke on behalf of God in calling the people to justice. The Bible points to that Word and stands as a witness to how it has moved and challenged people.

This understanding also helps us deal with the uglier texts we find in the pages of the Bible, and this is also why I said the Bible in and of itself not being the Word of God is actually good news: I can’t call commands to commit genocide or practice xenophobia the Word of God. God never commanded such things, and never will. And before someone says the whole, “You’ve just fashioned a god out of your own image,” let me say this: if we end up being more compassionate, kind, and loving than our understanding of God, then that understanding of God needs to go. It’s too small.

What do we do with such ideas? Well, these texts matter and must be engaged. We must be reminded how many people over the past 2,000 years have used proof texts to baptize crusades, pogroms, witch trials, slavery, and even the Holocaust, lest we continue to make those same destructive choices. We must take the Bible seriously and with care, from cover to cover. That doesn’t mean, however, that each text has the same weight or significance, or that we must take the whole thing as the Word of God, or none of it. That’s not realistic. Everyone cherry picks. We just do. Liberal or conservative. Protestant or Catholic. Do we embrace swords into plowshares or plowshares into swords? We must choose which vision presented in this library called the Bible will receive our energy.

I do not think that the Bible, as a library, *is* the Word, but I do think we can hear that Word in the lives and words that fill many of its pages. The Bible is a witness to that Word, which is too large to be captured completely by ink on a page. Our work is to learn, together, in community, guided by Spirit, to discern the Word from the words.

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Five Misconceptions About the Bible

Part Four: Authority

You might have noticed that last week’s post was conspicuously absent from your inbox. That’s because I was on vacation with my family! We had a great trip, but I am glad to be back in your inbox this week for another installment of Five Misconceptions About the Bible. So, here goes.

When we talk about the Bible the question of authority inevitably comes up quickly. Does the Bible carry authority? The Bible, after all, didn’t fall out of the sky, leather-bound, with gilded edges, our name embossed on the cover (and, of course, KJV. Because if it was good enough for Jesus 😉). It was produced by people and communities over time. It’s probably  more realistic to say the Bible emerged, more than the Bible was written. 

So, if the Bible has authority from where, or whom, does that authority come? How does that work, practically, in the life of a Christian community or even in our lives as people?

This idea of authority is grounded in the assumption that faith needs a basis, something that it is grounded in that shapes how we live and what we believe. The tradition in which I grew up placed that authority completely in the Bible. We said it like this:

“It (the Bible) reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” 

Another way to think about it is that the community is centered on the Bible, because the Bible says so. Those who take this position see the entirety of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible word of God, which makes it, and only it, the authority for faith and practice. That’s the whole Bible, not just parts. Except that’s not really true, is it? Everyone picks and chooses. There are things commanded in the Bible says that we just don’t follow. There are things affirmed that we just don’t affirm in our actual practice. I’ll say more about that in a bit.

 The texts that we now call scripture were written over the period of about a thousand years, and the writers of these texts had no idea they were writing what would become “the Bible.” They were often addressing specific communities, but over time their letters, poems, and stories were circulated and read by different communities. Actually one of the criteria for a text being included in the New Testament canon was catholicity, meaning that the text in question was universally accepted by the churches. This is the context in which we can begin to think about how the Bible has authority. 

Simply put, if the Bible carries authority it is because the community says it does. The authority rests with the community, not within the text itself. I heard the record scratch too, but please hear me out. A text was considered for the canon because churches had accepted it. Then, at meetings, these texts were canonized officially by leaders of the churches. The canon of scripture was defined by the community of churches and leaders, meaning that they granted these specific texts authority to be read in churches. The Bible is the product of two communities (ancient Jewish and early Christian), that was collected together by, at first churches, and then affirmed and canonized by church leadership. The Bible exists because the community gave birth to it.

There are a couple of important implications to this. First, if the community is the source of authority, why shouldn’t we assume our understanding of the Bible, and pretty much everything, would grow and change over time? Perhaps these moments of growth, leaving behind, or expanding to include something new, is what faith and faithfulness look like. Second, as a result we have a real responsibility to stay open and attentive to the ways Spirit is calling us forward. We learn and grow as people and communities, so it stands to reason that new information and experience might teach us something surprising and new. That’s the work, a continued openness to learning and changing our minds. 

Let’s unpack both of these ideas. 

We begin with why change is an assumed part of what it means to be faithful. In Matthew 16 Jesus and his disciples are in a place called Caesarea Philippi. They’ve take a bit of a field trip, during which Jesus asks his disciples who they believe him to be. Peter, always impetuous, responds that Jesus is the anointed one, God’s Messiah. Notice what Jesus says in response:

Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  [Matthew16:17-19, NRSV]

In this passage Jesus gives the community the authority to make decisions about what particular commands are binding, and which can be loosened. This means that we are not only permitted, but also expected, to engage in a continual process of making decisions about how scripture works in our communities. This isn’t a new idea; we’ve been doing it all along. That’s why Christians eat shellfish, wear blended clothing, and do any number of things that are called ‘abominations’ in the Law. But this isn’t just a Hebrew Bible thing. It’s also why we don’t greet one another with a holy kiss, nor do men always raise their hands when they pray, both of which are commanded in the New Testament letters. Then there’s the reality that the Bible, in places, supports genocide and slavery, both of which we now (thankfully) call immoral. These are shifts, loosenings if you will, that generations of Christians have made and embraced. 

The problem is lots of us have gone on to assume that all of the mind-changing that would be possible or necessary happened in the past, say in the 300s, 400s, or 1500s. The truth is we, the Christian community, are still called to the work of binding and loosing. The challenge is that we don’t agree on what should be binding and what should be loosened. A prime example of this disagreement is how churches should approach the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. 

The dominant Christian position on same-sex relationships is still one of disapproval and exclusion. Actually, it’s not just disapproval and exclusion, is it? In many contexts it’s persecution. In others it’s the old “everyone is welcome” bait and switch. Either way, the LQBTQ+ community has borne and is still bearing the weight of an inconsistent hermeneutic. There are Christians who don’t see any problem in, say, eating bacon or not holy kissing, but then, in the same breath, condemn the LGBTQ+ community as “not God’s best” (whatever that means) by quoting similar texts to those that they are ignoring on these other issues. It seems that, in this particular case, the only hermeneutic being employed is bias and phobia. Those of us who have changed our minds—quite literally, repented—about the full inclusion of our LGBTQ+ siblings in every way in the community are only doing what has been modeled by the Tradition. We haven’t always been early adopters, just ask Galileo, but we do have a consistent history of deciding that some things that were bound by previous generations should be loosened in our own time. The authority rests in the community, which means we are in a continual state of becoming, ever unfinished and ever pressing forward. That journey is what faith and faithfulness look like in action.

Christians have been binding and loosening from the very beginning, which leads me to the second idea: We have a responsibility to follow Spirit forward.  There’s a story in Acts 15 that is incredibly pivotal for the Christian story. The nascent Christian community was made up of faithful Jews who saw in Jesus the long hoped for messiah. They didn’t change religious affiliation. They remained Jewish, and also embraced the message and meaning of Jesus, incorporating that into their faith. To be sure, Jesus changed the content of their faith in dramatic ways, but they didn’t become some other religion. At least not immediately. 

Through the ministry of Paul the Jesus story started attracting Gentiles, those who weren’t Jewish. This sent shockwaves throughout the small, but growing, community of Jesus followers. They had never heard of such. The question, then, became, do these Gentiles need to convert to Judaism first, take up the requirements of the Law, and then embrace the message of Jesus? There was no consensus. Paul, the trailblazer, had experienced Spirit at work in the lives of these Gentiles. He was on the ground, seeing the good fruit that was growing in these new Gentile Jesus followers. James and the Jerusalem church were much more skeptical and uncomfortable with the idea of Gentiles being included without first embracing the rites, rituals, and obligations of Judaism.

The argument culminated in the first gathering of community leaders to sort out a way forward. This meeting, often called the “Council of Jerusalem,” occurred in the late 40s to early 50s, and we get (conflicting) reports on the outcome from Paul (in Galatians 2) and the author of Luke/Acts (in Acts 15). What I want to hone in on is something said in the letter the collective writes to the churches, after the deal between Paul and James is brokered. The letter includes this line:

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials…” [Acts 15:29, NRSV]

What a stunning line! Can you imagine someone saying that today when explaining a monumentally important decision? “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit…and to us.” Like Spirit needs our rubber stamp? What in the world is going on here? We are seeing how the community exercises authority, binding and loosening as they follow Spirit into uncharted waters. They are loosening requirements because they face an unprecedented moment and Spirit is at work in ways they previously would have thought impossible. 

The Bible has authority, because the community has given it. We find these texts meaningful, even sacramental. They connect us to the experiences of our spiritual ancestors, they teach us and inspire us, but they aren’t meant to keep us from our own experiences. There are moments, like with LGBTQ+ inclusion, that we must say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

May we have the courage to bind what needs to be bound, and loosen what needs to be loosened. In the process may we discover that this isn’t a new idea or practice, it’s coming home to what the Church was always intended to be and the work we’ve always been given to do.

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Five Misconceptions About the Bible

Part Three: Is it Biblical?

“Is it biblical?”

That’s the question so many people ask when faced with a new (to them) idea or experience. It’s such a common phrase that my assumption is we all know what’s being asked without even having to pause to evaluate the content of the question. “Is it biblical?” means, “Does the Bible support this?” If I go to the Bible can I find chapter and verse corroboration that this perspective is sanctioned by God? What we don’t often realize is that this whole idea—something being or not being biblical—is actually far more complicated and nuanced than we might imagine.

Here’s what I mean: If something being biblical means that it has the Bible’s, and thus God’s, stamp of approval, then what do we do when the Bible doesn’t speak with one voice on an issue? Or what happens when the Bible supports something that we’ve come to understand as deeply problematic? I know this is a hard pill to swallow, especially if you, like me, were indoctrinated into the idea that the Bible is free of contradiction. The truth is, the Bible is complex. As we’ve seen it is the product of many authors over the period of around a thousand years, which means we should expect differences. People learn, grow, and change over time, so if the Bible is the product of people we should expect that to be reflected in the text.

A couple of examples might prove helpful.

What is the biblical approach to war and violence? Should human beings take up weapons against one another? Notice these two texts that don’t agree on the issue.

Isaiah 2:4, NRSV
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

and

Joel 3:9-10, NRSV
Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
let them come up.
Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears;
let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.”

Isaiah and Joel are different people, writing in different contexts. The author of Isaiah chapters 1-39 wrote in the 700s BCE, during the time of Assyrian power, while Joel is generally dated to the Persian period, meaning between 539-332 BCE (Joel is located by many scholars to 400-350 BCE). They also have very different visions. Joel calls for Isaiah’s weapons turned plowshares to be turned back into weapons again. Which prophet is biblical? Which represents the call of the Spirit to human beings? Does God sanction violence? It seems the Bible can go either way in answering that question, and it is left up to us to decide which is better for humanity.

Here’s another example: The way the Bible talks (or doesn’t, actually) about marriage. The idea of biblical marriage is frequently referenced by those who advocate against marriage equality for the LGBTQ+ community. But what does that even mean? If you read the Bible, it actually doesn’t mean one thing, but lots of things. This meme circulated around the internet several years ago, and it demonstrates how, to be honest, ridiculous it is to talk about “biblical marriage.”

These are all in the Bible, which makes them…biblical. That doesn’t, however, make it good or the best way to be human with one another. What it does represent is how people in a patriarchal culture once thought, and within the Bible we can also see their movement and growth on some of these issues. The truth is, calling something ‘biblical’ doesn’t make it good or just or the best option for human beings today. After all, many horrible beliefs and actions have been supported biblically—slavery, segregation, continued racism, misogyny, and homophobia, all of these have been supported by biblical proof-texts.

If we remove the idea of biblical as a litmus test, how then do we make decisions about important questions? For me, I now hold up those questions and considerations to the idea of human flourishing. When faced with a question, I ask this: Will this lead to human flourishing? Will it allow human beings to become more fully and beautifully themselves? Will it lead to wholeness and healing? Will it empower us to become all that we can be, so that we can bring our full selves, and the gift that we are, to the world?

Can you imagine if we had allowed human flourishing to guide us? Perhaps then so many of God’s beloved would not have been wounded and traumatized by religion. Imagine if the question around human sexuality or gender identity was not “what is biblical,” but instead “What would allow a person to become their most flourishing self?” What if our parenting approach was not “what is biblical,” but how do I help my child become all they can be? The possibilities are many.

I am not anti-Bible. Far from it! I love the Bible. I find it to be spiritually nourishing, and a source of deepening connection with God. But the way we engage the Bible matters. When we approach it as something frozen in time, with all the answers located rigidly in the past, while also ignoring both the Bible’s complexity, the way the perspective of the authors changes and grows over time, and added to that, the complexity of our own context and questions, we aren’t taking it seriously. We are treating it like a Magic-8 ball at best, or weaponizing it, at worst.

Something being biblical doesn’t mean it’s best. Because having a biblical worldview also means believing in a three-tiered universe, and all that comes with that. It means holding assumptions that we’ve since learned, through the gift of science and medicine, no longer best explain the world or humans.

Something that leads human beings toward flourishing, toward becoming all that we can become, toward what Jesus called in John, “life abundant,” that is something to embrace, something that can be truly transformative.

As, Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
Here’s to that full, abundant, flourishing life.

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