Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

The Bible Does Not Interpret Us, We Interpret The Bible (And A Little Tidbit About Loneliness)

In Life, Suffering, The Bible on December 24, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Back in the Bible god days of my life, I spent a lot of time studying the holy scriptures – researching it, dissecting it, and learning words in their original language. This was my effort to know God and to live a life as a worthy Christian.

Thank God those days are over. Even the good book never made such a big deal about itself. Sure, the scriptures are profitable but they are not God. And if there is no partiality with God (Romans 2:11) then why would God be partial to those who can read?

But more importantly, the beneficial scriptures explain to us that the truth is “living.” What does this mean? I used to tout this as, “You better walk the talk,” but after learning at the school called life, I now have a different perspective.

We can only understand truth after we have experienced it. I think this is why the Messiah often spoke in parables. Truth isn’t gained by sitting under a teacher, or by reading about it, but by living it. This is why truths are hidden to the wise but revealed to the uneducated.

I found that the more I studied the Bible, the more it was full of contradictions and didn’t make logical sense, except as much as it might have given value to a religion.

But truth is not a religion, I have discovered.

While I once started with the scriptures and sought to live accordingly, I now need to recondition myself to reverse the process. I must first live and then read the scriptures. To interpret scriptures according to personal experience is considered heresy by much of orthodox Christianity, but what can I say?  Words are just words until they are given meaning, depth and a beauty that can be matched by no amount of academic study.

The entire Bible is now being redefined in my inner encyclopedia. In some cases, I have taken on a very different, even opposite, interpretation of passages from what I was traditionally taught. Here are a couple of examples.

He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

In most churches I attended, we all seemed to ignore the fact that none of us were moving any mountains. Whether it meant healing a child with a terminal disease or raising someone from the dead, or moving an actual mountain, it certainly wasn’t happening. Instead, our faith seemed to be largely measured by how passionately we were involved at church.

This was one of those scriptures that I didn’t know how to interpret except by reading it at face value. Was I supposed to trust God that he would provide the funding, the machinery, the construction crew and whatever else was needed to remove any obstacles in my life?

But if the truth is “hidden,” then it requires a sort of reading between the lines. I remember when the truth behind this verse finally dawned on me. “Oh, so THAT’S what that scripture means…” (And I would have more of these “ah-ha” moments. It happens not when I’m studying Greek vocabulary, but when that certain scripture is the last thing on my mind.)

Removing a mountain sounds extremely difficult, until faith comes into the story. The point is that difficult things are not difficult at all when we believe a certain way. In fact, we don’t even need to do anything. It’s simply a matter of perspective. Removing the mountain means understanding that the mountain was never there in the first place.

The mountain in my particular case was sin. I hated my sin that separated me from God. I despised my failures, often masking them or asking for prayer for them, or by simply trying not to commit them….

When I discovered how much I loved my kids no matter what they did, I began to understand that love is unconditional (on my part as a parent.) I loved each of my kids the same and nothing they could ever think, say or do could change this factor. It just wasn’t possible.

This is when it dawned on me that sin was not an issue to God either. Nothing can separate me from my creator because that would be impossible. I would cease to exist. Sin was only a mountain that I thought was there, but after believing the gospel, it was removed quickly and easily. There was no more guilt, no matter how much I sinned because sin couldn’t change the fact that I am in God and God is in me. This is a very difficult truth to believe for most people. Therefore, their mountain remains.

Here is another scripture that came alive to me just his morning.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24

I knew this verse spoke about suffering and death, especially since the following verse said that we must lose our life in order to find it. Also, the Christ spoke it when referring to his own death. But what did it mean to die? Didn’t Christ conquer death on the cross for me so that I wouldn’t have to die? Didn’t he remove the curse? Why do people, including believers, still suffer and die?

The understanding came to me only after experiencing loneliness. Since I hate being alone I have been trying to conquer this unpleasant emotion. I usually do this by surrounding myself with people. But last night, the day before Christmas Eve, after my kids left to go to their dad’s house, I found myself sitting alone in front of the decorated Christmas tree surrounded by presents. I couldn’t help but cry as I felt that even a tree had more abundance than me.

Then I remembered what I had been learning about meditation. It is important to feel our emotions instead of attempting to ignore them temporarily. So I let myself grieve over being alone and over a few other disappointments as well.

It didn’t last long. Soon I was happily enjoying a quiet hot bath with a book and then falling asleep in the peace and good will of my own soul and cozy bed.

This morning, the above scripture came to mind and that is when I knew. Unless a seed dies, it remains alone. Loneliness is only cured by being lonely and feeling the loneliness, as opposed to resisting it and doing everything we can to avoid it.

There is no path around suffering. Christ did not turn the world into a utopia after his death because then we never would be able to experience the strength and happiness that can only be experienced through suffering. Just as there was no alternative to the cross, so we must also face our hurting emotions and walk through the fire.

Accept what comes. Feel the pain. Live it. Understand it. Dwell on it. Express it. You will then find that it does not last as long as you had anticipated. And not only is it bearable, but a strange goodness seems to appear in the midst of it. The only way I can describe this, albeit inadequately, is with the analogy of a physical exercise stretch. When we push ourselves to our limit, it hurts, but it hurts so good. This is because it is willing pain instead of resisted pain.

And then the calm. And clarity. And joy. Zen Buddhists call this balance. Happiness is not possible without sadness. We need the sadness which is the energy that not only created the happiness but the sadness actually is the happiness. The emotion had been transformed into a different emotion. The reverse is true as well. The same things that make us happy are also what causes us sorrow. My kids are the means of my happiness as well as my sadness.

“But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Today I do not feel any loneliness even though I will be home alone most of the day. I have my entire day planned out and I have some very special activities planned that I would not be able to do if my kids were here. If loneliness should creep back in, I am not concerned. I will cry or unashamedly express whatever I feel I might need. And then I will once again remember that I am my own best friend, and that we get along wonderfully. I will also remember the many, many friends in my life as well.

  1. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you are not resisting the pain. I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability here.
    You have done a great job of describing what Henri Nouwen describes as the difference between loneliness and solitude in his book, Reaching Out.

  2. Thanks for sharing this wonderful blog post, Elizabeth!!! I do appreciate the approach you have adopted toward the Scriptures, which seems to be so plentiful and unbound in scope–live life and then go the Scriptures, for they are just one manifestation of God and do not encompass His infinitude.

  3. […] I like Craigie’s paraphrase because I think it’s unrealistic for me to try to get rid of my anger, or to feel guilty because I’m angry. But I can choose not to act on my anger. And, paradoxically, once I accept my anger, my anger becomes defused. For a similar scenario, see Elizabeth’s post,The Bible Does Not Interpret Us, We Interpret The Bible (And A Little Tidbit About Loneliness). […]

  4. I guess I read that just when I needed it most! Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts. You have given me a lot to think about and I feel better than I did before I started reading it :-))

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