Editor's note: Steven James is the author of more than 30 books, including "Flirting with the Forbidden," which explores forgiveness.
By Steven James, Special to CNN
(CNN) – The Bible is a gritty book. Very raw. Very real. It deals with people just like us, just as needy and screwed up as we are, encountering a God who would rather die than spend eternity without them.
Yet despite that, it seems like Christians are uncomfortable with how earthy the Bible really is. They feel the need to tidy up God.
For example, look in any modern translation of Isaiah 64:6, and you’ll find that, to a holy God, even our most righteous acts are like “filthy rags.” The original language doesn’t say “filthy rags”; it says “menstrual rags.” But that sounds a little too crass, so let’s just call them filthy instead.
And let’s not talk so much about Jesus being naked on the cross, and let’s pretend Paul said that he considered his good deeds “a pile of garbage” in Philippians 3:8 rather than a pile of crap, as the Greek would more accurately be translated.
And let’s definitely not mention the six times in the Old Testament that the Jewish writers referred to Gentile men as those who “pisseth against the wall.” (At least the King James Version got that one right.)
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God’s message was not meant to be run through some arbitrary, holier-than-thou politeness filter. He intended the Bible to speak to people where they’re at, caught up in the stark reality of life on a fractured planet.
Dozens of Psalms are complaints and heart-wrenching cries of despair to God, not holy-sounding, reverently worded soliloquies. Take Psalm 77:1-3: “I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. I think of God, and I moan, overwhelmed with longing for his help” (New Living Translation).
And rather than shy away from difficult and painful topics, the Old Testament includes vivid descriptions of murder, cannibalism, witchcraft, dismemberment, torture, rape, idolatry, erotic sex and animal sacrifice. According to St. Paul, those stories were written as examples and warnings for us (1 Corinthians 10:11). So obviously they were meant to be retold without editing out all the things we don’t consider nice or agreeable.
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I believe that Scripture includes such graphic material to show how far we, as a race, have fallen and how far God was willing to come to rescue us from ourselves.
God is much more interested in honesty than pietism.
And that’s what he gives us throughout Scripture, telling the stories of people who struggled with the same issues, questions and temptations we face today.
Peter struggled with doubt, and we hear all about it.
Elijah dealt with depression; Naomi raged with bitterness against God; Hannah struggled for years under the burden of her unanswered prayers.
David had an affair and then arranged to have his lover’s husband killed. Noah was a drunk, Abraham a liar, Moses a murderer. Job came to a place where he found it necessary to make a covenant with his eyes not to lust after young girls (Job 31:1).
It’s easy to make “Bible heroes” (as Protestants might say) or “saints” (as Catholics might refer to them) out to be bigger than life, immune from the temptations that everyone faces.
I find it encouraging that Jesus never came across as pietistic. In fact, he was never accused of being too religious; instead he partied so much that he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19).
Jesus never said, “The Kingdom of God is like a church service that goes on and on forever and never ends.” He said the kingdom was like a homecoming celebration, a wedding, a party, a feast to which all are invited.
This idea was too radical for the religious leaders of his day. They were more concerned about etiquette, manners, traditions and religious rituals than about partying with Jesus. And that’s why they missed out.
That’s why we miss out.
According to Jesus, the truly spiritual life is one marked by freedom rather than compulsion (John 8:36), love rather than ritual (Mark 12:30-33) and peace rather than guilt (John 14:27). Jesus saves us from the dry, dusty duties of religion and frees us to cut loose and celebrate.
I don’t believe we’ll ever recognize our need for the light until we’ve seen the depth of the darkness. So God wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty with us about life and temptation and forgiveness. And grace.
Only when the Bible seems relevant to us (which it is), only when the characters seem real to us (which they were), only then will the message of redemption become personal for us (which it was always meant to be).
We don’t need to edit God. We need to let him be the author of our new lives.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steven James.
I love how the associated illustration – the painting of Judith beheading Holofernes – is said to depict a biblical scene. Wrong. There is no such story in the Bible. There is no Holofernes mentioned in the Bible, and the only reference to Judith is a wife of Esau, and she is not mentioned as committing any such act. This story is found in the Book of Judith which is not in the modern canon – the accepted works in the Bible. It is found in the Septuagint and the Catholic Old Testament,but will not be found in any modern bible version (NIV, ESV, NASB) you pick up off the shelves of a bookstore.
Accepted works? Accepted by whom? Who decided for us what books and stories should be published and which ones should not?
.......... and how lovely it was that Salome asked for the head of John the baptist and it was presented to her on a platter who then promptly brought this lovely scene to her mother, Herodias. .......
It's such lovely stories as this which I read as bedtime stories to my children every night. After all... it's not against the law to read the bible to children. Now last night we watched: Silence of the Lambs together before we bowed and prayed above. My children voted which has more gruesome scenes throughout... they voted the bible... hands down. They love this the best... and Hosea 13:16 was voted the most enjoyable scene of them all!
So who cares what you think?
All of you non-believers can argue that the Bible is a book for the 'ignorant ramus' until every God given cell in your earthly bodies withers up; but, seeing that Jesus, the Son of God, quoted from the Bible/Miqra .....well, that's good enough for me!! I’m just saying…… : )
That’s the book for me.
I stand alone in the word of God.
BlahBlahBlah Please, quote more scripture as proof of your invisible friends. It's written therefore it must be true. Ipso facto Your heads are filled with turds.
excuse me secular sheep, baa baa? School day tomorrow!! waaa haaa haaaaaaa
The book is true because it says so in the book.
God did not intend anything you moron, these are the writings of men! Wake up you nutcases of the world; the Easter Bunny, Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and god are all in the same fantasy land. Stop using religion as your crutch and realize that life is a cycle and you are the descendent of a primate.
For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? (Jesus Christ)
Thank you for your input. Remember that the next time someone you really care about, assuming that is possible, dies. Stand over the grave listening to believers and tell yourself your family member, friend, or lover is now fertilizer. Feel better?
@toaders – While the scenario you are painting would make one a horrible person if they actually said that about a loved one or anyone else. It is true. Your body will become "fertilizer." Do I need to explain catabolism to you?
My Harley is a cycle and you are the descendent of a primate, maybe a pope.
Posting on this is closed, so I will do it replying here. I have to agree. How in the world do we have a whole pseudo intellectual discourse over written material that is basically nothing more than fiction, unless of course you choose to believe otherwise? Seriously, enough of this insane ignorance. All we need now is a lunatic like Santorum to be elected to the presidency. Just bring on the end times in a good old fashioned biblical way, why don't we. I am so sick of the leaders of this country making their political decisions through the filter of their damned religion! I don't want to live in a society based upon christian family values! Its these damned values that has us with one of the highest rates of child abuse in the developed world, because these family values guys would rather keep kids with their dysfunctional lunatic parents, while they are being abused and killed, just so they can spout about how much they care about keeping families together. Hypocrites, every single one of them. This is just a single example, among a million regarding how twisted their logic is. Enough of this!
nvrwrong, apparently your screen name is supposed to represent that you are never wrong. Enjoying puberty????? Ah, youth, stiff all the time and no relief but their right hand. Makes them mean. Try Islam. They have learned to channel all that frustration into warriors.
@toadears – Well since you obviously don't know what catabolism means... I will end this useless conversation with someone not on the same intelligence level as me.
Ah, Toadears...ad hominem, you have taken the last refuge of someone who has nothing intelligent to say.
Are you Kidding?....you couldn't be more incorrect.
@Liberals Are Stupid
DID YOU GOOGLE JESUS PAIS ROMAN CENTURION YET
Pride is unbecoming. Better watch yourself and thinking you know better than God.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Jesus Christ)
None of this makes one iota of sense. Read 'The God Delusion' by Richard Dawkins for real enlightenment! Nothing which supposedly resides in the realm of the supernatural is worth much comment. Discussions about the altruistic nature of human beings, and many other species, is much more worthwhile, logical and interesting.
That's pretty open-minded of you, Dave.
You are just a TROLL picking a fight. Nothing altruistic there. I can't stand country music but I never go to stories about it just to heckle the people who like it. You have a problem. Why don't you channel your anger towards something constructive like swinging a hammer to build a house for a homeless person with Habitat for Humanity or something? Oh, wait, Jimmy Carter is a Christian. never mind.
Well well well, let's see, for people that don't believe in God there's a lot of posting about this subject. Those who don't believe must be here for educating themselves i guess, otherwise they would have turned the page over if it wouldn't be because deep inside they want to believe in God somehow.
The Bible's not just filled with these awful things, God's saying to do them! Go trade your slaves, kill the ga.ys and the adulterers too. No shellfish for you either!
Evangelical religion is the scourge of civilization.
Speaking of scourging, my husband and I like to act out scenes from the Bible. Just the other day he sold me to a priest for twenty pieces of silver.
@Tom – can I get in on the bidding next time?
@Nii Croffie, As it does not disprove Zeus, or magic rabbits. So do you believe in Zeus and magic bunnies?
Can we all agree that the world would be a better place if there were magic rabbits?
well i wrote to you cuz i cared abotu your situation. you were abused and yes i do understand abuse. probly more than you cna imagine. but i could not make it thru such things in my life without love of Christ and without HIm helping me especially his healing. oh my word. you can have everything be good but what if tomorrow satan strikes and hurt you again by taking everythign away from you? you have deep hurt underneath your heart that must be delt with and only can be by obeying power of HOly Spirit to follow Jesus and receive healing of abuse you encountered from mankind. You must forgive the peopel who hrut you and you can only forgive by power of Jesus Christ in your heart. You must be willing to surrender everything cuz what if a day comes when thief come to steal kill and destroy you. We are not promised otmorrow. but if you just wanan reluy on yourself then that is up to you. i have no ability to change your mind but you must will it to want it and be changed. you are only keep bottled up inside your pain and abuse and unhealedness. Love only comes from God and those who obey God can love. i dont even know if you have HOly Spirit in your heart if you wish you can try jesus2020.com but you also must surrender to Spirit ofGod to heal your heart. if not that up to you. one day you may have next it may all go away cuz satan surely out ot hurt you. i wish for you ot be saved now so you can get in light and be ready for future trials and attacks from evil one. its not a talltail. i need HIm and realized i needed him. was where you were tried to do it on my own but that deep pain in heart could not be taken away. only by power of HOly Spirit. amen. and i need Gods help so much. i hope you will see that too dear one. but thats up to you. i left website. you can also try cbn.com
@NVRWRNG, I can imagine the rampant s.ex and say, yeah... it would be better.
@PLEATOGOD, Your reply is on page 50.
Thank god for making me an atheist!
I agree, religion is a curse on mankind and it is the greatest con ever invented by mankind. These people can't kill themselves fast enough for me.
Yes indeed thank god for making me an at atheist too ;-) I sure as heck don't pretend our species has it all figured out but one thing is for sure we were not created by Adam and Eve, had a Noah's Ark, with Jesus rising up into the heavens on the 3rd day. It took me a long time to unlearn that after going to Lutheran school for my first 8 grades. Our country is so messed up and Christianity is a good part of it. How about critical thought and common sense be our guide?
Here's an idea.... the bible is a work of fiction.
Eh its final product is fiction, but definitely at one point was based on factual things. Even I would agree to that an I think that the book has been the biggest downfall of mankind to this date.
It's a sign of a mentally sick mind to protest against a person you claim doesn't exist.
I don't think anyone is dumb enough to say Jesus wasn't real. We are simply disputing wether every line in the entire book is true. Other wise, if there is one fallacy, its fiction. Get me or do I need to explain?
@Liberals Are Stupid, We don't protest against a person that doesn't exist. We protest against the disease infecting your brain that make YOU belief god exists.
Why are the vast majority of atheists selfish, angry, bitter people?
Why are you so close-minded?
They are not. I regularly volunteer at my local cat shelter. Selfish, huh? In fact, I'm so selfish that I sometimes help to feed the hungry using http://www.freerice.com and http://www.theanimalrescuesite.com. I am truly a horrible person
"selfish, angry, bitter people" = Not agreeing with me.
You should be ashamed of yourself Modern!
Probably because they have to deal with theists all the time.
Do you have any evidence to back up your claims? I am an Atheist, and I live a very fulfilled and happy life.
Atheists are not selfish or angry as a rule. They do get angry when seeing destruction, abuse, bigotry and greed being promoted and defended by people who claim to be Christians. The most honest, hard working, caring and peaceful people I know are all atheists, deists, or wiccan. They care for the planet, and all that lives upon it, they help those less fortunate, defend those who cannot defend themselves, share what they can, when they can.
“Religious people are 25 percentage points more likely than secularists to donate money (91 percent to 66 percent), and 23 points more likely to volunteer time (67 percent to 44 percent).” – Arthur C. Brooks of The American Enterprise Institute
Communism, as originally laid out by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, required the abolition of all religion in order to reach its ideal end-state. It was interpreted in this fashion by Vladimir Lenin and the Governments of the Soviet Union until the country's dissolution. Other communist states adopted similar doctrines and combativeness towards religion.
State atheism is the official "promotion of atheism" by a government, sometimes combined with active suppression of religious freedom and practice.
People's Socialist Republic of Albania
Czechoslovakia 1948 to dissolution of USSR
The People's Republic of China
Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge
While many countries no longer follow state atheism, communist governments in China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea and Cuba, despite some economic liberalization, continued to persecute the religious. In addition to overt persecution, these states also sought to control religion by forcing upon the people state-sanctioned churches, essentially attempting to make the churches tools of the state.
@Chad, Is your argument that becoming a secular government leads to the dissolution of the country? If so, how do you explain the many secular nations that are more successful that America? I happen to live in one of them, and the US dollar is about 20% weaker than ours.
If you can find one single good thing to have ever come out of atheism, please let me know.
The atheist record is dismal.
Modern atheist feeds cats to the homeless?
@Chad, This is for you, who said, "If you can find one single good thing to have ever come out of atheism, please let me know. The atheist record is dismal." Consider yourself schooled.
Douglas Adams (Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Sir Arthur C. Clarke (who proposed satellite communication that you are likely using daily), George Orwell, Ayn Rand (without whom the tea party would be forced to admit they've never read a book), H.G. Wells, Roger Waters and David Gilmour (thank you Pink Floyd for making work bearable), Eddie Vedder (thank you for making the 90s bearable), Sergei Prokofiev (Peter and the Wolf is genius!), Kevin Bacon (for making 6 degrees of atheists more fun), Russell T Davies (Doctor Who?), George Clooney (well Batman was evil, I'll agree), Charlie Chaplin, Guillermo del Toro, (Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth), Stanley Kubrick, I'LL LEAVE OFF MOST OF THE SCIENCE PEOPLE, THE LIST IS LONG (I suspect you wouldn't know most of them anyway), Albert Einstein (without whom the world would be a very different place), Richard Feynman (without whom the would would be less quantumy), Sigmund Freud (without whom the world would be a little crazier), Stephen Hawking (without whom we'd never be able to use that funny robot voice), and Carl Sagan (who probably did more than any other person to educate people about the world around them).
Im offended. Im going to go riot, burn flags and kill people in the name of religion....at least thats what the muslims do. Dont laugh christians...jews...you are no better.
And you are better? Please share your great successes and accomplishments in helping the human race
But yet it's the atheists and liberals who are intolerant of others. Just look at them flocking here to mock something they claim to not believe in. LOL
I am not an atheist nor a liberal....
So atheists think FARC, Indian n Nepalese Communist rebels, Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin, and Mengistu Haille Miriam are the best they have to offer the world. Or is that they want to say ours before we do theirs. The beauty of any religion is its ability to teach men to love themselves not legalism.
jeremiah 7 31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. amen....
We are better now – we do not take this "filth" seriously any more.
Minding your own business and not killing anyone is helping the human race more than most religious people ever have.
@Liberals Are Stupid:” Just look at them flocking here to mock something they claim to not believe in. LOL”
Just another typical stupid Christian. Religion and Christians are both (unfortunately) very real, belief is not required, and they are richly disserving of all the mocking they get
jeremiah 7 19 But am I the one they are provoking? declares the LORD. Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?
31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.
it shows how God says to reform form there ways. they were sacrificing children on altars and burning to other gods and yeshua could no longer take it anymore to see such evil prevail. He loves all mankind and gave even in days of noah hundreds of years to repent but has to intercede for those that wish not to do evil or have such evil prevail.
people get mad when God does something and they get mad when He does nothign to interveen as evil occurs. God gave noah time hundreds of years to repent. do you see cities be exploded. God gives mankind so much time to repent, he is so longsuffering, so merciful. He wants to save murderers, and rapists and all kidns of sinners. if you even hate a person tyou have murdered in your heart. we are all sinners and God wants all to be saved and wants no one to perish. when evil get to be so rampant then peopel are given over to what they want, making satan there god and there destruction. you want increased evil then you are given over to it. however God gives so much mercy. peopel will always complain somthing about God...whether he does lil or alot to intervene. At end of day He is still God and doesnt matter what huamsn havet o say about HIm. he will still always be I AM. you decide if you want His love
If you hate a person you have murdered in your heart.
In a pure person's eyes everything is pure.
The Bible is about myself, myself alone.
100 bucks says you'll never see CNN run an article like this about the Koran.
Doesn't really matter Murray, Bible, Koran or a book of fairy tales, it's all BS.
. there aren't many ways can you write about hating the infidels?
. people are scared of Jezebel like characters ;)
is a marvelously flammable book.
I have read so many articles on Islam that it doesn't make sense to make this arguement.
Nii-Know the difference between islam and koran?
The article explains the Bible in the context of X'tianity. I have seen such perspectives from Muslims on what the Koran actually says against what Islam teaches so what are u talking about?
That's because the Quran is not about Peace and Love, therefore it is not the Truth. There is a huge contradiction between the two, because Jesus says He is the Way the Truth and the Light, and "no man cometh unto the Father but by Me", and the Quran dismisses Jesus as just another prophet whom Muhammad is greater than. One book gives us Truth and Light and Peace through Jesus Christ, and the other does not.
Thank you for a great and inspirational article!
This guy thinks that God wrote the Bible????????????????
LAS thinks that jesus preauthorized the new testament and authorized the old testament. Welcome to the world that you live in.
God claims to be the Author of the Bible and Jesus verified that while on earth. The phrase "Thus saith the Lord" and similar phrases are found over 2,800 time in the Old Testament, alone.
Obviously, the bible was written by people. There is no god. Atheism is slowly killing religion. Look at the facts. Anyone who is religious is an idiot.
I made a typo: That should be over 3,800 times.
I'm guessing that your mission is to be like a terrorist then? Tolerance for religion obviously isn't part of YOUR vocabulary. As I said, it's not me who is offended by your ridiculous statements and Biblical ignorance. I pity you because in the end, you're in for a rude awakening.
Rude awakening? I'd love to know how. Please explain.
Liberals Are Stupid
Does your definition of "tolerance for religion" mean that people cannot criticize religion whatsoever? How does that fit into a society that was founded in free speech?
Evidently!! LOL "HE" wrote the bible .... what a fool.
your perception of God comes from what man has done to you and man is sinful and fallen and alows satan to operate thru them. God is not one who ordered babies ot be burned, nor Hitler strike. it is satan running loose on this earth. and men choose to ghive into it and it is a battle. God is not some vindictive abusive creator that you ahve ebelived from experiences. He is loving and Holy but even when he discipline it is loving, and peaceful, and not harsh.
But he will supposedly get rid of Satan some time into the future (Revelation), yes? The question then is why is he allowing Satan free rein until then?
"God" isn't real. Religion is simply mythology.
cuz for appointed time that is what is occurring. due to mans choice to make satan there god form beginning instead of choosing to obey real God, God let them choose what they wanted. they chose to make satan there god so now we have what we have. if you choose Christ you will still face warfare as all mankind will but God will be with you thru it all in your heart as you become overcomer of sin and obey Holy Spirit to preach gospel and rescue other mankind from sins snare. til return of Christ we have what we have. man fault.
Just to get this straight, I asked "Why?" and you responded "Just because!"
That might work with children, but it doesn't really answer the question. God knows the cure to Evil, getting rid of Satan, but he is withholding that cure just to see how bad it's going to get first. Some 'Savior'!
The only people who "sugarcoat" the Bible are modern evangelicals - a movement which does not, and never has, represented the true spirit of Christ. Modern evangelicalism was unknown outside the deep South prior to the 1950s, and it's done more since then to denigrate the Bible than all the atheists and agnostics of all the years since, combined. The Bible is the foundation of Western civilization and Western culture, and it should be understood and honored as such - but it should not be a cudgel used by so-called "true believers" to beat their opponents into submission. The spirit they show is Pharasiac, not Christian, and they do not represent Christ or his teachings.
Read the Bible, understand the Bible, but don't worship the Bible like an idol.
If you look very closely you'll see that we atheists are mainly arguing against the evangelical positions you too find fault with. We need to because moderate Christians don't appear to be interested in doing it for themselves.
BTW how does this whole "God is Love" thing fit in with a non-sugary reading of the Bible?
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.