I have the privilege of teaching the Bible to college freshman. For most of them, the Bible is mostly a set of impressions. Even if they know some Bible stories, they really know very little about the Bible. They think of the Bible primarily through some religious assumptions that have been modeled before them. This is true whether they are Christians or not. And some of these get in their way of knowing God.
The biggest untested assumption that they bring to Scripture is that it is some kind of answer book, that it speaks with one voice on all topics. The Bible is a great monolith, and so is God who is purported to be pulling all the levers.
Here’s the thing about this view of God and Scripture. If a sensitive, reflective, thoughtful student has begun to entertain questions about all that he or she has inherited, then they’ve got a crisis of faith. To question puts them outside the boundary.
And these students have questions. They have questions about violence and the degradation of the planet and homosexuality and gender and power in the church. And too often, the very presence of these questions makes them feel dangerous to themselves.
A few weeks ago, I taught on the book of Job. Job is placed in a conundrum. His experience does not square with what he believes about God. Job is committed to holding on to his integrity, which includes two things–his faith in God and his personal experience of life. His wife wants him to give up the faith in God part. “Why do you hold on to your integrity? Curse God and die.” His friends want him to deny his personal experience. “These kinds of things don’t happen to the upright. Confess your sins (a rough paraphrase).” But Job persists, requiring that his understanding of God conform to his experience of life. And in the process he says some pretty sketchy things about God.
In the end, Job is humbled and perhaps satisfied in his encounter with God. Not because he gets answers, but because he gets the presence of God. This is enough. And perhaps more importantly, God upholds Job. God scolds the safe-talking friends who refuse to move past their answers about God, “My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God affirms Job, the one who moves beyond answers to a more direct encounter with God.
I told my students that there will come a day in their lives when their answers about God no longer conform to their personal experience of the world. This does not mean they are out of God. There’s God beyond our answers about God, and God honors those who relentlessly pursue the living God.