Here are the stages of deconstruction I went through with my Bible.
Can you relate?
1. First of all, I started to realize that the Bible didn’t harmonize with itself. I was a very dedicated Bible reader. There were many glaring inconsistencies and even contradictions that I found and was also informed of. But we evangelicals, which I was at the time, find ingenious ways of making them work. In fact, we even found ways to make these glaring inconsistencies and contradictions work in our favor. But after a while, the gymnastic contortions we put the Bible through no longer satisfied my curiosity for the truth. I finally had to admit that the Bible must be a diverse collection of the writings of different writers over hundreds of years, and there was no way, and in fact it was unfair, to force them into a harmonious and singular message.
2. Secondly, the Bible doesn’t harmonize with science or reality. Everything from creation to the flood to the miracles to the virgin birth to angels and demons to the resurrection to the second coming… I realized that all of these and more were an apparently fantastic deviation from the possible. I remember attending whole lectures where the instructors were trying to persuade us that the dinosaur bones were from animals who didn’t make it to the ark, or were planted in the earth by Satan to deceive the elect. As a teenager I went to a whole weekend seminar all about Satan and his demons and leaving there terrified to the marrow. Crazy attempts to make it work. But eventually I had to concede that scientific proof was too powerful a contender for the metaphor and mythology of the Bible to be taken literally.
3. Third, the Bible doesn’t harmonize with other sacred books. When we begin to get spiritually curious outside the box of our assigned religion, we begin to survey the at first baffling array of sacred literature that is held in just as high an esteem by their adherents as the Bible is held by Christians. At first we convince ourselves that all of these are deceived at best and demonic at worst, an elaborate hoax to confuse. Eventually, though, we come to appreciate the striking similarities, not just in particulars but in theme. It is here we are faced with a crucial choice: either we reject it all or explore further to understand what this means. Here, we either to choose to conclude that all sacred scriptures are anything from human naïveté to human conspiracy, or we choose to appreciate the manifold, perennial, and universal attempts to understand and articulate things that are mysterious but important to us.
It is a kind of circular journey, if we so choose to take it, that spirals deeper into the mysteries of myth, story, and meaning.
D.T. Suzuki, in the retelling of an old Buddhist teaching, describes the journey this way:
“Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters. When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters. But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest. For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.”
It’s the same for Christians who want to journey beyond just the mountains and waters we are given and adopt. This applies to our view of the Bible. At first the Bible is just the Bible and we take it literally as the Bible just like we are conditioned to. Then, as we go deeper, we begin to understand that the Bible is not the Bible. That is, it is not necessarily what it claims to be or what others claim it to be. Our whole theology of scripture gets stood on its head and we no longer take it as literally. Then, when we go deeper still, we begin to appreciate the Bible for what it actually is rather than what we fantasize it to be.
This is typical of spiritual growth and is not to be feared. In later stages of our spiritual journeys, we can embrace the fact that even though the Bible isn’t what it used to be to us, it can be a powerful conveyer of truth and meaning.
Unfortunately, it’s also typical for many on this journey to be overcome with intimidation and fear and revert back to earlier stages. We fear mystery, which translates into intellectual and spiritual darkness, and we recoil to a safer and more explicit position.
But I want to encourage you, if you are on this journey, to press forward. Dig deeper! Don’t worry about orthodoxy or heresy. Your sense of trueness will come. Wouldn’t you rather accept things as they actually are rather than as you wish them to be? Wouldn’t you rather be dealing with reality than fantasy? Because wishful thinking is dead-ended and spiritually suicidal.
I promise that if you continue on this journey, you will arrive at a place where you do see the Bible as the Bible, but with a peace of mind and freedom of spirit you’ve never experienced before.