The Beauty of Imperfection: Thoughts on Inerrancy
Anxiously Overthinking Inerrancy!
As a writer, the concept of Biblical inerrancy has always fascinated me on a deeply personal level. I wrestle over writing a single inspirational sentence. How could God work alongside some of his followers and create a collection of letters, poems, historical documents, prophecies, and proverbs and not have a single error in them? And why if he did that with the Bible, doesn’t he do that with the big institutions set up to teach us to follow the Bible? Why does it seem to be that he only worked that way in a couple of hundred people throughout history? Why didn’t he work that way through Bible translators so that we wouldn’t have dozens of competing English translations?
When I asked those questions, in church, I was shushed… which by the way, never made my questions go away! And I was told that I needed to have faith that God just did what he did to preserve his Word. Well... that seemed like a cop out, so I kept wondering.
I remember asking my Mom one time, if she believed the Bible didn’t have any errors in it, and she said, “No one really believes that. The gospels don’t even perfectly coincide with each other. We just believe that God put in there what needed to be in there for us to know him.” Which was nicer. I could accept God somehow made it good enough to get his meaning out to us. But I still had questions...
As I got older and wiser, I began to understand the real issue that we are debating when we talk about whether or not the Bible has any errors in it. The deeper issue is in how God relates to humanity.
Elevating Humanity’s Ability to Perfectly Follow God
Simply stated, the teachings that the Bible does not even have a single comma out of place, elevates humanity’s ability to perfectly follow God. It says that God can speak to human beings in some way and we can follow his directions with such precision that we can put together a book spanning several centuries, written in three different languages, and copied manually, without a single detail or punctuation mark missing the mark of perfection.
The proponents of this belief say things like, “If you think there is a comma where there should be a period, you are saying that the whole book is open to your interpretation.”
And this kind of teaching used to really scare me. I don’t like uncertainty. I want God to hand a book out of the sky and say, “This is my rule book.”
But God didn’t do that at all. Now that we have the internet and access to tons of scholarship, there is no intellectual way to support inerrancy. The belief in divinely inspired perfection doesn’t hold up to the evidence, even within the Bible itself.
Elevating God’s Loving Pursuit of Us
The crazy thing is, that taking the Bible as it is, with all its flaws, messed up stories, and maddening lack of details, elevates God. This view of the Bible doesn’t present a few super humans who achieved the ideal of perfectly following God. It presents an extremely loving God who continues to pursue humanity even though we are continually falling short of his ideal and messing up his plan. It presents a God who is able to work with imperfection and still reach out to his creation and draw them to him.
I don’t like to evaluate my theology through anecdotal evidence, but one thing I can’t help but notice is: The end result of believing that some people have an ability to perfectly follow God often leads to extreme arrogance and cruelty. Not everyone who believes in inerrancy acts like the people of Westboro Baptist Church. Many amazing Christians, simply haven’t put much thought into it and don’t enter this world of debating theology, because they are out actually loving people and living out what Jesus taught! However, for others, that elevation of our own ability to please God with how great we are at following him, can very quickly lead to cruel judgments against those who do not measure up.
On the other hand, a belief in God constantly pursuing people who will totally mess up his plans is beautiful and freeing. Not because I can do whatever and know God will love me anyway. No. it is because, I know that I am a mess. I know that I never get it perfect no matter how hard I try. I know that if he doesn’t accept me flaws and all, there is no hope.
God relates to us like a loving parent doing an art project with a child. He teaches us. He helps us. And ultimately, he knows we will mess things up. But he somehow, amazingly loves us, and delights in the process or us relating to him.
Therefore, when I see his work throughout history, and how he worked through people who did some really awful stuff, I see incredible hope for our world now.
Hope For Our Current Mess!
I am constantly trying to speak out against our biggest religious institutions because they are covering up abuse and creating a shame culture that has hurt us all. However, I don’t think that our nation is without hope because of their failures. If the way I see the Bible is correct, it was never about those institutions getting it perfect anyway. They aren’t who I am following! It has always been about God pursuing people and walking alongside them the second they call out to him and recognize their need for him.
God still works even when we mess up!
My belief isn’t just something I dreamed up. It is consistent with the message of every book of the Bible. The oldest book of the Bible, Job, is all about how God wants us to pursue him not because of what he can do for us but because he is God. All of the patriarchs made huge mistakes and God somehow continued to work through them because of their desire to follow him, but not at all because of their perfection. In the New Testament, right after Jesus’ resurrection, his followers have heard all of his teachings, seen him crucified and raised from the dead. Jesus tells them about his plan to share his teachings with the world so everyone can know God’s redemptive love. They ask, “Are you also going to restore Israel?” Meaning, after all that they saw, they were still at least partially focused on their own power and influence.
The people closest to Jesus while he was walking around did not achieve perfectly following him while he was standing in resurrected form right there in their presence!
So, I will take this beautiful story of God pursuing us with all of our imperfections and I will delight over all the questions and imperfections, because each one is reminder that there is a place for me in this story!