In some traditions, belief that the Bible is the “inerrant word of God” is the litmus test that determines if you are a Christian or not. In the many parts of Scripture that appear to be in conflict, this reading of the Bible requires that there be one answer. Biblical literalism insists that Biblical figures alone had special privileges to question God’s fairness like Abraham, argue with Jesus (and win) like the Syrophoenician woman or put God in a head lock like Jacob.
For me, believing in the Bible the same way I believe I’ll have to move my car tomorrow for alternate side of the street cleaning sucks the literal “life” out of it.
Even though I’m not a Biblical literalist, there’s not a day that goes by when I’m not certain, with every fiber in my being, that Jesus has the words of eternal life. By eternal life I don’t mean “If you believe what Jesus says, when you die you’ll go to heaven and live forever. (And too bad for all of those unlucky heathens who are Buddhist or Agnostic. Oh well…)”
Eternal life is something for now. It’s life without end coming out of you and at the same time it’s heaven and earth meeting in you.
A church I once served listened to Jesus’ words and gave just about everything it had in the bank to buy a vacant lot across the street from a public housing neighborhood and the tow yard. Almost everyone involved in making that decision has since left, but the community center on the once vacant land has enriched the lives of hundreds of kids who would have had nowhere to go after school without it. Jesus has the word of eternal life!
I knew a man who drank a lot of his life away, was estranged from his family and had no friends. One day he decided to go looking for Jesus’ words and wound up sitting in my church on Sunday morning. Months later he became the guy who welcomed strangers at the church door and brought communion to the sick. Not long after that he was the one people at church and in the neighborhood called when they were in trouble. Life just kept gushing out of him.
When you read the Bible or listen to what Jesus says in the Gospel reading on Sunday morning I hope you won’t decide that your job as a Christian is to believe it. Instead, I hope you treat the Bible like a love letter. Write notes in the margins- press a flower in it- argue, get inside of Scripture and try to live like it is really meant for you.
See if you don’t encounter the Christ when you do: that one who we have no choice but listen to again and again because he has the words of eternal life.
The Rev. Laurie Jean Wurm