Careful study of the Bible
When the footballer, Israel Folau, published his quote from the Bible, many of us who are more familiar with various parts of the Bible could have said to him, “Oh! So you believe that slaves should obey their masters, do you?”
That is a quote from the Bible, also attributed to the apostle Paul, the author of the text Folau quotes which refers to all sorts of practices, including abusive sexual practices (the Greek words used do not denote homosexual orientation or loving homosexual relationship).
The reality is that, if you carefully study all the Bible, it is clear that some claims about who God is and what God says to us would mean that this God is cruel, punishing and sometimes rejecting of people – not a God who loves neighbours in all their diversity.
Of course, the fact is that the Bible (like many religious documents) was written by people of many different cultures, places and histories, over thousands of years. Some parts of it are actually contradictory and tell stories which are hard to imagine could be true. How could one boat, like Noah’s Ark, hold every living creature?
On the other hand, that story may well have a profound message about caring for all people and creatures and learning to live together. Most religious documents convey deep truths and challenges within stories, which lift your imagination and invite new hope and commitments.
When the Bible is referred to as the Word of God, most do not mean that every word in this book is the Word of God. It could hardly be this, given the stories of harsh judgement and cruelty and some things which contradict others. On the other hand, Christians do believe that the Word of God lies within the Bible. We are very grateful that the life of Jesus, the Human One, enlightens the truth about the nature of God so that we can search for it there.
Of course, not one of us can find the whole truth about God. This is why studying, reading the thoughts of biblical scholars down the ages and discussing things together can bring us closer to the truth. One great gift to us is our recognition of a God who is a Trinity – the loving Parent who is our great Creator; Jesus the Human One who treads our journey, suffers with us but rises to new life; and the Holy Spirit who speaks to us in the depths of our living – gives us hope and inspires us with new truth.
One thing we can believe is that this God never leaves us alone. We are held and loved in walking through life. We are forgiven when we make mistakes or do the wrong thing in response to life’s eternal questions. We are given the conviction that we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves – to recognise that we are all human, none of us perfect and all deserving of love.
We can pray for each other as we go and receive these prayers, which can lift our hearts and lives and inspire us with deeper and newer truths. We can find healing and energy when the going is hard or painful. When we read the Bible, we can discover stories about other people who have lived in faith in ways which can teach us more about doing this ourselves. We can learn to ask the hard questions of God and each other so that our lives are challenged and enriched and to believe that the answers which we find may be offered from love, even if they seem costly.
If we listen to Christian leaders, often those who are our ministers or priests, it is because to be ordained they must study at some length and depth the contents of the Bible and the reflections on it which have been written by wise people over many centuries.
We may still make our own decisions about what we believe, but profound faith is almost always related to studying and thinking with other people as well as by ourselves. We invite you to do that, Israel Folau.