The world needs for the visible body of Christ (the church) to grow up. How does this happen? According to one biblical writer, “it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:16). What kind of love? The kind of love demonstrated through Jesus’ sacrificial life and death (Eph. 5:1–2).
We have to stop using the Bible to justify our sexism, bigotry, and hypocrisy. The Bible itself shows us how the people of God appealed to divine command to justify their greed, hate, and violence. For example, consider all those passages where it is claimed that God orders the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites wholesale, even the women and children, in order to possess the land of promise (see Deut. 7:1–6). Under European colonization, we did the same thing to Native Americans. We claimed “manifest destiny” and sought God’s blessing on our plundering and killing. We claimed to be doing the will of God, portraying the Native Americans as hostile, uncivilized, and inhuman (the same thing Hitler did to the Jews).
We are still using the Bible to endorse violence, refusing to see the evil in our own hearts. (We are always finding evil somewhere else, projecting it onto “the other.”). One can find the worst and the best of humanity in the pages of the Bible. Since the Bible reflects our human sin and prejudices, as well as God’s vision of transformation, it is not hard to find Bible quotes that support our biases and injustices.
Jesus is the Bible’s own answer to its divine sanctions and endorsements of violence. Jesus shows us that God is not violent at all, but a God of forgiveness and love. Even God’s judgment, which can be painful, is for the purpose of salvation.
It takes us a long time to get there in Scripture; the process is always three steps forward and two steps back. But in the fullness of time God sends forth God’s Son. Jesus breaks down barriers, expands the boundaries of God’s grace (even to our enemies), and embodies and proclaims a nonviolent gospel. Yet, we have a difficult time believing that nonviolence is the answer. Even in the final book of the Bible, we take another step backwards, imagining that Jesus returns as a violent warrior slaying all his enemies.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus is called the Lamb of God who takes away the sin (singular) of the world. What is this sin? It is the sin of hate. It is the greed and animosity of the powers that be that put Jesus to death. Yet Jesus does not lash out in revenge. So how does Jesus take this sin away? He bears it in forgiveness all the way to the cross. This is why in John’s Gospel Jesus’ death is referred to as the glorification of the Son and the Father. The glory of God’s love shines through all the darkness of evil and hate. Instead of enmity and revenge, John says, “God so loved the world,” showing us “a more excellent way” (see 1 Cor. 13).
As Christians, we must stop worshiping our Bibles and quoting Bible verses to justify our sexism, classism, nationalism, and all manner of greed, prejudice, and love of violence. We must listen to Jesus, as the Voice at Jesus’ transfiguration tells us to do (Mark 9:7). We must read our Bibles through the lens of the nonviolent, peace-seeking, forgiving, compassionate, inclusive Christ, who is Lord (head) of his body in the world.
It is time to grow up. Our world desperately needs Christians to shed their infantile Christianity, and put on Christ, “the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). We must stop worshipping a book and using that book to justify our sins; instead, we must start worshiping and serving a God, who in the “fullness of time” plans “to gather up all things in him (Christ), things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:10), a God “from whom every family in heaven and earth takes its name” (Eph. 3:15), a God destined to be “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).