My New Testament professor once said in class, “Give me 15 minutes and I can find a proof text in the Bible for anything you want to justify.”
You’ll have noticed by now that I treat the Bible with a great deal of caution. For me and for many others, the Bible is a lot like a pit bull with a hair-trigger temper. One minute it’s wagging its tail at you, spouting happy thoughts. The next, it’s trying to rip your throat out.
I’m not one of those mystics who thinks the Bible is a lap dog that will always treat you kindly — an immortal, timeless lap dog whose eyes are always filled with serenity and bliss if you know the secret of looking at it the right way. This spiritual talk of secrets — secret knowledge (gnosis) and secret interpretations (symbolic readings of the Bible) — makes me very nervous. I’ll tell you why. It’s because spiritual leaders who teach you how to unlock the secret biblical interpretations are making some powerful claims about God. They’re claiming that God isn’t a very loving God or a very nice God at all.
Take the example of Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs). Here is a lyric poem about human love (eros). It’s filled with erotic imagery and metaphors that nobody can miss. Scholars think the poem (or collection of poems) was probably written in the 4th or 3rd century BCE. Despite the extremely obvious fact that the Song of Solomon is part of an ancient tradition of erotic love poetry written for a pre-Viagra age, the Song of Solomon started to be interpreted symbolically by religious teachers sometime around the start of the Common Era.
For about 2,000 years, then, theologians have been teaching the faithful to read Song of Solomon symbolically — as an account of the love between God and Israel. Pious and devout people are expected not to notice or respond to the explicit sexual content. And fourteen year old boys are not to read it late at night by candlelight.
If this is a sacred text about the relationship between God and God’s people, I’ll eat my hat.
I’m very unhappy that this symbolic interpretation can only be arrived at through some pretty twisted mental gymnastics. I’m also wondering why it’s only through a special secret scholarly key that regular people can see the “light of truth” hidden in this poem. As many mystics would have you believe, the majority of people — regular people who aren’t privy to the secret key — won’t be able to see and understand the wonderful “truth” buried in this erotic text. Regular people are too dull to see the “truth.” Their corrupt, inferior human senses make them too stupid to understand what’s actually written here.
And, of course, that’s the way God wants it to be! (according to Gnostic teachers). God, in God’s infinite wisdom, decided that most human beings are just too darned stupid and weak and untrustworthy to be entrusted with divine truth. So God hid it. God hid the light of truth in the deepest, darkest swamps, where regular people can’t find it, and then God chose a few select warriors to go out and find the light and guard it. Because God is too weak and stupid to protect it. God, Creator of all Creation, is too weak and stupid to parent trustworthy children. God is too weak and stupid to share divine truth with all children equally. God is too weak and stupid to tell the honest truth honestly. God is too weak and stupid to communicate clearly to all people without the help, aid, or benefit of that trusty band of “specially chosen warriors of light.”
Maybe it’s because God is too busy thinking lascivious thoughts about the luscious gazelles and wild does in the Song of Solomon.
I hope the last sentence creeped you out. I know it creeped me out. But don’t yell at me. I’m not the one going around claiming that the Song of Solomon has an elevated message about the sacred love God feels for a few chosen children.
We have a term we use today for parents who engage in sexual conduct with their own children: we call them child abusers, and if we catch them, and succeed in convicting them in a court of law, we put them in jail. As we should.
The God I know is nothing like this. Nothing like this at all. The God I know and talk to every day as part of my mystical practice are my divine parents. God the Mother and God the Father are wonderful people. They’re kind and thoughtful and generous and funny. They’re extraordinarily patient. They always explain things in a way I can understand with my very human brain. If I don’t understand something, they don’t call me weak or stupid, but instead they always try a new tack to help me “put it together.” They love me as their child, but I know I’m not loved more than anyone else. They love all their children with as much ferocity as they love me. It’s the ferocious love that all loving parents know towards their children. It’s a life-long devotion, a commitment, a sacred trust. It’s safety. It’s eternity.
There are precious few passages in the Bible that convey this sense of God’s relationship with us as angels-in-human-form. The passages that do exist are almost buried under the holy mountain of piety, righteousness, law, fear, and obedience.
I say “almost.”
The really cool thing is that the truthful passages “somehow” survived all the cuts, revisions, and ruthless doctrinal choices made by narcissistic theologians in the past. “Somehow” the Letter of James made it into the Christian canon, although many influential theologians (including Martin Luther) were openly hostile towards this letter. “Somehow” the Gospel of Mark was preserved, despite the best efforts of the authors of Luke and Matthew to eradicate its message by “improving” on it. “Somehow” the non-elitist Psalm 116 got snuck in there amongst the more famous Royal and Zionist Psalms.
I just love the way these truthful messages are “hidden in plain sight” where anyone with an open heart and a lick of common sense can find them.
Even better, these passages say what they say in an open, honest way. No special training is required. No promises are made to you about the hidden truth that will one day be revealed to you if only you submit to blind faith.
Divine truth needs no embellishment. It’s beautiful just the way it is. Today. Not centuries from now, but today.
Which is pretty much what you’d expect from a wonderful, loving God.