Anyone who tells you “The Bible is clear…” is either not reading it well, or not reading it at all. Most sections of scripture are anything but clear, and what we understand as the Bible today - a conglomeration of compiled random writings spanning thousands of years and dozens of genres - takes serious interpretative work. Anyone who tells you otherwise could be ignorant of the interpretive work they themselves are doing, or they are aware of it and purposefully concealing from you the fact that there is interpretation happening. (The Bible includes, among other things, a world-wide flood, maniacal kings, naked prophets, at least one talking mule, more than one messy marriage, murder AND zombies - it takes interpretation.)
The Bible, precisely because of its variegated nature in content, form, and historical context, is an invitation into a conversation. It is the recounting of a long dialogue between human communities among themselves and their own conceptions of divinity about how to respond to any and every issue you can think of. Suffering, death, love, politics, inequality, race, religion, illness, art, family - you name it, and the Bible recounts people that were thinking about it, and writing about it, in deeply thoughtful and engaging ways.
Are we so foolish to believe that a multi-millenium narrative of intense struggle with human and divine relationship includes simple answers? Answers simple enough to be found on billboards on I-10? “Got Questions? The Bible has Answers! 1-800-TRUTH” This petty and careless direction toward scripture is misleading at best and discouraging at its worst. It insults the human psyche, our emotional and social landscape, and frankly - everyone’s intelligence.
I have had too many conversations with people who have been led to believe that the Bible was a simple answer booklet to all their questions. When they faced suffering, pain, death, despair, addiction and all kinds of brokenness, their church was incapacitated at helping them see God in the lives - because they were looking at scripture as a one-sided conversation that was supposed to tell them what to do and how to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is great guidance to be found in scripture. But it’s meant to be an invitation into community with the words on the page, and also with the people engaging them. The Bible is a vocabulary of how humans have responded over thousands of years to all the same issues facing us today. We should mimic the process that the Bible itself displays - generations of people coming together to unabashedly ask “what does it mean to be human?”, “what is God even like?”, and “Why me? Why us? What do we do now?”
If you want someone to spoon feed you answers, then you don’t want the Bible - you want Dr. Phil. And the reflex of some to try to make the Bible fit the Dr. Phil self-help consumerist society of American culture leaves us feeling empty and depleted. But, if you want an invitation into community, where authenticity is engaged and the hardest questions of human life are peered into without flinching - the Bible might be the book for you. After all, it is the Living Word. We haven’t yet definitively decided on the meaning of the oldest 4,000 year old sections, and we are still emphatically engaging the youngest 2,000 year old sections. Chances are, this won’t be the last generation to find value in the archaic writings of the Bible. If you think you’re up for it, open at your own risk - but read carefully, and make sure you join the conversation.