Editor’s Note: This week, we will be reposting several pieces written by and featuring writer Rachel Held Evans in honor of her life and legacy. The piece originally ran in June of 2018.
There’s a curious but popular notion circulating around the church these days that says God would never stoop to using ancient genre categories to communicate. Speaking to ancient people using their own language, literary structures, and cosmological assumptions would be beneath God, it is said, for only our modern categories of science and history can convey the truth in any meaningful way. In addition to once again prioritizing modern, Western (and often uniquely American) concerns, this notion overlooks one of the most central themes of Scripture itself: God stoops.
From walking with Adam and Eve through the garden of Eden, to traveling with the liberated Hebrew slaves in a pillar of cloud and fire, to slipping into flesh and eating, laughing, suffering, healing, weeping, and dying among us as part of humanity, the God of Scripture stoops and stoops and stoops and stoops. At the heart of the gospel message is the story of a God who stoops to the point of death on a cross. Dignified or not, believable or not, ours is a God perpetually on bended knee, doing everything it takes to convince stubborn and petulant children that they are seen and loved.
It is no more beneath God to speak to us using poetry, proverb, letters, and legend than it is for a mother to read storybooks to her daughter at bedtime. This is who God is. This is what God does.
The Bible’s original readers may not share our culture, but they share our humanity, and the God they worshipped invited them to bring that humanity to their theology, prayers, songs, and stories. And so we have on our hands a Bible that includes psalms of praise but also psalms of complaint and anger, a Bible that poses big questions about the nature of evil and the cause of suffering without always answering them.
We have a Bible that says in one place that “with much wisdom comes much sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18) and in another “wisdom is supreme—so get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7). We have a Bible concerned with what to do when your neighbor’s donkey falls into a pit and exactly how much cinnamon to add to anointing oil. We have a Bible that depicts God as aloof and in control in one moment, and vulnerable and humanlike in the next, a Bible that has frustrated even the best systematic theologians for centuries because it’s a Bible that so rarely behaves.
In short, we have on our hands a Bible as complicated and dynamic as our relationship with God, one that reads less like divine monologue and more like an intimate conversation. Our most sacred stories emerged from a rift in that relationship, an intense crisis of faith. Those of us who spend as much time doubting as we do believing can take enormous comfort in that.
The Bible is for us too.
Editor’s note: This piece has been excerpted from Rachel Held Evans’ book, Inspired:Slaying Giants, Walking On Water, and Loving the Bible Again. Used with permission.
Rachel Held Evans was a Christian columnist, blogger and author. Her book 'A Year of Biblical Womanhood' was a New York Times bestseller in e-book non-fiction, and 'Searching for Sunday' was a New York Times bestseller nonfiction paperback. She passed away in 2019.