last week during the midweek bible study at our church, the minister read a passage from exodus popularly known as the "song of moses and miriam." this song is purported to have been sung just after the hebrew people crossed the dry bed of the red sea after god had parted the waters for them and as they watched pharoah's army being swallowed up as the sea returned to its original state. when she reached verse three, she stopped. in her translation, the first line of that verse read, "the lord is a man of war." she asked if that troubled any of us as it did her. she said it was difficult for her to envision God as a "man of war." i spoke up to say that the "man" part of the verse was troubling to me, and before i could elaborate, she said, "that troubles you, not the entire 'man of war' phrase?" i said, "well, that too, but it is the 'man' part that is most troubling for me."
she didn't want to involve us in a conversation about my reservations and went on to explain why we should understand that God is both a God of war and a God of peace, before continuing with her lesson that covered several other biblical passages. i left the bible study deeply troubled. for the first time, i was forced to accept that in our church we are not free to discuss the problem with taking the bible literally. i feel certain that our minister knows that the story of the hebrews' escape from egypt under the leadership of moses is not true, but she did not even allude to that in her lesson. i wonder how she can go on supporting the understanding that many of our congregation have by failing to seek deeper meaning in the myths of the bible while dwelling on superficial readings of it that disguise the truth behind the myths.
her lesson was concerned with the bible's ideas of praising God through various old and new testament passages, but how can we adopt ideas that praise a god that is created in our image rather than the other way around? why did jesus say that "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth" (john 4:24) if "God is a man of war?" how can we tiptoe around the inconsistencies and the mythic qualities of the bible to avoid confronting the danger of taking it as a history book? i suspect that if our minister were to begin teaching that there was no exodus, no enslavement of the hebrews in egypt, no moses, and no conquest of the promised land by the jewish people under joshua's leadership she would find herself out of a job. i can understand her unwillingness to destroy or cause feelings of doubt in many of her parishioners, but i can't accept being silenced when i begin to raise these questions. i know that i am not alone among our congregation in my views about the bible; there are others of "liberal" theological persuasion.
i want to be accepted in our church without having to remain silent about my views that are not in accord with what the majority believe. if we are so narrow in our views that we cannot tolerate any dissent from orthodoxy, we leave no room for discovery of many important truths. questioning is important, and those who push against the boundaries of an easy acceptance, those who refuse to adopt a faith that is unreasonable, are necessary to keep us from falling into the trap of empty ritual and blind acceptance. God gave us reasoning minds, and i can't believe in a God that expects me to silently accept that which seems unreasonable.
may we never settle into an easy faith. may we seek truth and go where our seeking leads us, even when the path is dangerous. may we be thorns in the side of orthodoxy. shalom.