When I read the Bible, I want to stop at Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” What wonderful and comforting and hopeful words are these! They reach across the thousands of years since they were penned to give to us something of truth and value that we cherish today.
But I would rather not continue on to Isaiah 13:9: “Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it.”
If there must be a judgement, why can’t it be more finely focused? God, can you not remove the bits of me and them and the world that are cancerous with sin and leave the rest to grow and recover? Haven’t you heard of targeted immunotherapy? Why does the whole country suffer in Isaiah 13? I ask with Abraham: why destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? can’t you spare them for the sake of the righteous few? I want to keep Isaiah 11 and discard chapter 13.
The concept of Hell is repugnant. It must be a failure of God as much as a failure of anyone. And what about the business of making crazy moral standards? What is the homosexual to do with his desires? Where the mercy in campaigns against abortion and euthanasia?
But what does taking a cookie cutter to the messages from God do? What does the book of Isaiah look like with half of it cut out? Full of holes where I take out what I don’t agree with. Much more palatable. Perhaps it was written for a rougher day: those cut-out parts are the first stage rocket that we can now discard in our journey through the celestial, left to burn up on reentry to a world we left behind.
No, I cannot accept this. God is not God with his personality cut in half. Shredded scriptures may be ready for recycle but not for reading. It is a valiant attempt to save something that you no longer want as a whole, but it is dishonest.
What about this approach is dishonest? What is it that we are unwilling to face in our search to bend God and the scriptures to something more acceptable to the modern mind?
It seems to me that the alcoholics have already answered this question in two simple words: Higher Power. Making sure to gather as many as they could on their journey towards sobriety, Alcoholics Anonymous purposely forsook even the word “God” in their terminology back in the 1930’s. While theologians wrestled with what part of God to keep, AA profoundly said: there is someone or something bigger than we are. While the rest of the world made God according to its wishes, the alcoholics admitted they were incapable and needed someone greater than their wishes.
I am dishonest when I say that I want a God but I really do not. I don’t want someone bigger than I am. I don’t want someone to tell me what to think and what to do. I want all the comfort of having a loving celestial being. I want the good feelings and the support of religion. I want a historical connection. I find great things in the Bible and other religious books. But ultimately, I want to be in charge. I will choose what belongs and does not belong in my religion. It is ultimately about me, my friends, and my world.
The question really is not about hell, about homosexuality, about gender, about names, about rich and poor, about scriptures. The question is: is there a God in the universe that demands my respect, my love, my honor, my obedience, my worship? It is the same question that opened the Bible’s account of reality, where the snake asked Eve: did God really say not to eat that apple? It is the question of our lives, and the question that will determine how we think about everything else. Is there a Higher Power?-->