When I was 17 I encountered a God who was willing to die for me. From that point on my life was turned upside down. This came about through reading a book, a book which also told me that I needed to hold a literal view of the accounts of Adam and Eve, and seven day creation. Apparently, if I questioned the Bible on any point, then pretty soon I would question what God had done. At that time, Jesus was so real to me that taking this view of the Bible was not a problem. I just assumed I would need to reappraise my science. I should have known it was never going to be that simple.
I soon discovered that the Bible was not a textbook. Beginning at the beginning, I was dismayed to find myself stumbling over the first few chapters. I just could not tie up Genesis 1 with Genesis 2, so I had no idea how to relate it to the external evidence. So off I went to the local Christian bookshop, but the books I bought just added to my confusion. I soon discovered that they were not good science. Maybe I chose the wrong books, but they were the best I could find, so I parked the science that I loved. It was proving too problematic. However, easier said than done. In my stumbling attempts to tell others about my new life with God, it was surprising how quickly the biblical accounts of creation came up, and how quickly they derailed my efforts. Furthermore, new scientific discoveries often made it into the news, which often proved difficult to match to the interpretations I had been told to accept. The literalist view, far from strengthening my faith, was constantly causing me to question it. At times, it felt as though I was only hanging on by my finger nails.
After being a Christian for many years, it came as a surprise to discover that not every Christian held these views. In fact, even some of the leaders I respected did not. Yet, by then, it had become so ingrained that I was not ready to let go. It took several more years before I was able to embrace a view that was more in accord with the scientific evidence.
I have since learned that, while the initial advice was well intentioned, it is actually an error. A result of reading the text with our modern assumptions about what the text should be saying, rather than trying to read the text on its own terms. I felt like the boy named Sue in the Johnny Cash song. It was a view that had caused me to ‘get tough or die’ – but I would not wish it on anyone else. What I have come to realise is that I do not believe in Jesus because of the Bible, but I have confidence in the Bible because of Jesus.
One of the important lessons I learned during all my struggles with literalism were that some things matter and some things don’t – and it is important to be able to tell the difference. It is also something that the apostle Paul fought hard over. What matters was Christ – not our practices, not our doctrines, nor who else we follow. Ultimately, our relationship with Jesus is all that matters, a relationship with a God who was born into this world, died on a cross and rose again. He is the way, and he is enough.