Saving The Bible From My Mythologies

In the past year, I’ve been working hard to read the Bible in the light of the gospel of the triune incarnate God.  I want to take a minute today to point out some of the changes of mind that have been useful in my efforts.  When I’m reading the Bible and I come across the following words, I remind myself what they actually mean.

  1. God. This word evokes in me images of some Christianized Zeus.  But because I believe the gospel, I know that God is not a person.  God is three persons together in perfect unity.  Wherever the Bible speaks of God, it is speaking of the Trinity, not about some Christianized Zeus.  Since the word “god” has so much mythical baggage, it’s been useful for me to just drop the word altogether.  In the New Testament, it’s obvious that “God” almost always refers to the Father.  In the few instances where “God” refers to the entire Trinity, I just translate it as “the Triune One.”  It helps me keep my thinking straight.
  2. Faith. My mind habitually thinks of faith as if it’s a work.  As if the Pearly Gates are guarded by a brain scanner that checks to see if I have enough faith particles in there.  So I have to strong-arm my thinking into new channels whenever I see this word, reminding myself that believing in something does not cause it to start existing; to believe is to perceive and embrace something that was already there. When I understand specific texts in this light, the texts make a LOT more sense.  Faith does not trigger Jesus into giving me a gift; faith is simply the way the gift gets inside me and transforms my thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships.
  3. Salvation.  I tend to mystify this word way too much.  My best remedy is to replace “save” with “heal” (They are the same word in the Greek).  That usually gets my mind onto a better track, and that track is usually not preoccupied with getting into heaven after I die.  It’s about having my broken pieces put back together, having my relationships healed, having my mind healed from the effect of poisonous lies.  This healing is given to us by grace.  That is reality, and it transforms those who are willing to re-orient their minds around it.
  4. Justification.  Another word my mind is always tempted to turn into some kind of voodoo.   But there is nothing mystical about it.  Justice is about right relationships, with Papa, with ourselves, and with the world around us.  This “right relationship” to all things belongs to Jesus, and he has given it to us by grace.  As I re-orient my mind around this reality (i.e., as I repent and believe), I actually begin to relate rightly to reality.  I actually become more and more just, in anticipation of the day when Christ’s just-ness will dwell fully inside my skin.
  5. Chosen. Brother Calvin, bless his heart, taught me to get really uptight about this word.  The trick to calming down is to remember that Papa chooses people instrumentally, not exclusively.  Ultimately, he chose his Son to be the executor of his plan of adoption.  And within that choice is included his choosing of certain persons and communities to be the carriers of his blessing to everyone else.  Remember Genesis 12:  Abraham is blessed to be a blessing; he is chosen for the sake of those not chosen.  With that firmly in mind, texts about ‘the chosen ones’ no longer make me panic.
  6. Punishment/Wrath. The pagan mind is full of visions of vengeful deities, and those visions infest my mind as much as anyone else’s.  So I filter all such language through the reality of fatherly discipline.  As the writer of Hebrews says, punishment and wrath are gifts from a father to his beloved son.  There is no need to avoid punishment and wrath language (after all, the Bible is chock-full of it).  We just need to stop thinking of it in terms of Zeus and his lightning-bolt of doom.

~ John Stonecypher

6 comments so far

  1. tjbrassell on

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Thank You John! Well written! This is GREAT education in the Gospel! Thanks!

  2. boyd merriman on

    I think that list is something we need to copy and print out where we can read it and remind ourselves of the bad theology we have had all these years. Not that I need reminding of bad theology, I seem to have that memorized! 😉

    But seriously, that does help our bible study considerably.

    Boyd

  3. Boyd Merriman on

    Another thought on changing the way we read certain words and ideas in the bible:

    I am working on the term “Kingdom”. When I read the “Lords Prayer”, I read “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.

    Now we have two requests in one. Thy will be done on earth as it is (right now) in heaven. We ask the Fathers will be done on a daily basis. We seek the Fathers will in our very lives. So how can that request for something so current and personal, be in the same breath (and after) as thy kingdom come (a way off future event) without expecting the kingdom today as we do his will?

    Another one: Seek first his Kingdom AND his righteousness. We again seek to be righteous and live a righteous life, which is why we seek his righteousness right now in our life, but again, we see that it too is in the same breath and thought as the kingdom, which we seek in the way off future and not expect today.

    So either we are losing ground with the “righteousness” and “his will being done” in our lives, or the kingdom is a lot closer in our lives than we think.

    I do seek THE Kingdom that we all seek with the final return of the Christ, but should we be seeking God’s kingdom right now on earth as it is right now in heaven currently? After all, we call Jesus our king (King of kings and Lord of lords) over our lives right now. So therefore, we are his subjects in his Kingdom.

    Does that not make the kingdom here already? And if that is true, then we are already in Gods kingdom and why try so hard to “get” into God’s kingdom?

    Seek and you shall find.

    To repeat Johns self correction: “So I have to strong-arm my thinking into new channels whenever I see this word, reminding myself that believing in something does not cause it to start existing; to believe is to perceive and embrace something that was [is] already there.”

    Boyd

  4. John Geerlings on

    Thank you John
    Very helpful!

    Here are a few thoughts that came together after reading the very good comments. I am adding to the discusion and am open to further thought.

    There are so many things that we participate in, yet we ourselves only see dimly. The Lord’s Prayer is one of those, although given to the first disciples; still speaks to us through the fulfillment in Jesus Christ. It is a prayer of love given to us from the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    This prayer speaks to us; a Father who is in Heaven with a Kingdom and will on earth to come. It is Jesus who has hallowed (made holy) the name of the Father through fulfilling this very first sentence for all humanity. It is the Spirit who gives us our daily spiritual bread by convincing humanity of forgiveness of sin, right standing and the judgment of Satan, in this very same Jesus.

    We forgive by means of the life of Jesus because we see all humanity through His eyes as adopted and included as we are also. Our temptation is swallowed up by the right standing that Jesus has pronounced on all humanity. Judgment has been given to Satan and humanity does not need to be led by him anymore in this thought of deception of God, others or ourselves.

    It is about His Kingdom, power and glory!

  5. Robert Mahoney on

    As a former Calvinist your bit about brother Calvin made me literally laugh out loud. That is the best summary I have EVER heard. It was put in such a gut level explanation that only the willfully blind could fail to see it. Thanks, I have that copied and saved on a sticky note.

    • Hey Robert, thx for the comment on my post; I’m glad you got a laugh out of it! There have been times where I’ve had unkind feelings toward our friend Calvin, but I’ve since decided to try to be as gracious towards him as I’d like future generations to be toward me, and I’ve realized I’m gonna need a lot of it. 😉


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