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My Take: Stop sugarcoating the Bible
The 17th century painting Judith Beheading Holofernes, by Artemisia Gentileschi, depicts a biblical scene.
February 25th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: Stop sugarcoating the Bible

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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The point?

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.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Opinion

soundoff (5,744 Responses)
  1. archimedes109

    Religion is understandable. The problem is that so few actually take the time and make the effort to understand it. Others were indoctrinated into their cult by their parents before they had developed the ability to think rationally.

    We all have the evolved internal mechanism that subtly informs us that there is something greater than ourselves. Its one of the reasons we survived; without it, we wouldn't clan together, and we would be extinct sabre-tooth snacks. It's the same process that internalizes our knowledge of right and wrong. We would not be here today, using computers to have a world-wide discussion, without that knowledge.

    Like anything else, there are usually unintended consequences. In this case...religion. When we rid our world of that pesky side effect, we will all be much better off.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
  2. faith

    we want all of cnn to come to christ we wish so much for you to knwo beautify of love of God. godlife.com

    February 26, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      We aslo wants them tuh gib Andresen Coppre mo monee. Him is gud men, hmm? gollum gollum. My precioussss!

      February 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • archimedes109

      Okay! Which way to the punch bowl?

      February 26, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
  3. Too Old to Care

    Why do people who try to defend the Bible quote the Bible to defend it? It's a circular argument. If the people you are trying to convince don't believe the Bible, then your argument carries no weight.

    Try to make your argument for the Bible, God, Jesus, etc. without quoting the Bible back to people who don't believe in it at all. You may actually find you need to rethink your approach. (BTW I'm a strong, believing Christian.)

    February 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • chuck wagon

      This is easy to do, though, walking the walk of the spirit of Christ helps much otherwise man walks in carnality subject to fall into the temptations of man – lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • Too Old to Care

      Chuck Wagon, I've been a Christian all my life and I have NO idea what you're trying to say. Please try again.

      February 26, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
  4. chatroom

    more liuke chat room then a blog

    February 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  5. Dwight Corvelo

    When you're blue and you don't know where to go to why don't you go where fashion sits? PUTTING ON THE RIIIITZZ!!!

    February 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
  6. Adam

    Not sure why religion is horrible and a waste of time. Jesus never said to kill anyone that did not believe in Him. He was trying to give eternal life to anyone that would believe. I would rather believe that there is a God and be wrong than believe there is not a God and be wrong.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • cnn user name

      godlife.com

      February 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      You're right Adam. His dad just said those things. Many, many times (although to be fair, he didn't say to kill "anyone" who didnt believe in him, just specific people, tribes, and especially "men, women, children, pregnant women...and CATTLE." e.g. 1 Samuell 15:3). Allegedly that is. Marcion Rising!

      February 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      It's like blaming George W. Bush for something his daddy said. Except that in this case, belief in George W. Bush is dependent on the truth of what his daddy said.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Chubby Rain

      Anyone else sick of hearing Pascal's wager over and over again?

      February 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      Yes sir. Pascal wagered and lost the bet already. I bet he's regretting a few things right now.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  7. cnn user name

    what a joke. cnn need get usernames.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • cnn user name

      bible isnt the thing thats a joke. cnn need to set up username and password.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  8. OrgDoc

    Seems a lot of people are declaring that God doesn't exist with the same amount of evidence (or less) than the people who say he does. You can't prove one or the other definitively by assuming your own assumptions are true. There are, however, ongoing archaeological digs that provide some evidence. More often than not they support the stories of the bible as being true. that is, assumed "facts" that refute the bible are often discredited by actual findings that support the bible instead. (I'm not getting into whether the world was created in 6 24-hour days or not, but more things like cities being found that were originally thought by non-believers to be myths.)

    So what's the upshot? That there is more proof that the Bible is true than that it isn't. Do human beings always do what the bible says they should?? Um, no. But that doesn't mean that the book is false–it means that people who claim to follow it are not the best way to judge its truth.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      Yup. Drink Pabst beer.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Bob

      Actually, OrgDoc, taken in its entirety, as "words of god", the bible has adequately been proven false. This is so because any error in it (and there are many) definitely means that it is not a divine work of a purportedly perfect being. Have a look here:

      http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html

      Furthermore, proof of the existance of god generally is different than proving the existence of the Christian god. Christian god definitely does not exist; Christian god can't possibly exist, given the contradic-tory traits generally claimed for it in bible stories and by Christian adherents.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions in 2012.
      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      February 26, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
  9. have some respect for LOrd name

    please stop using Lord name in vain. i see it thru the pages. so disgusting things peopl are sayin. we dont judge your name and make fun of you

    godlife.com

    February 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      "we?!?" What is it with you and "we?" Oh wait, oh wait, I get it: "We are the borg. Freedom is irrelevant. You must comply. Resistance is futile."

      February 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  10. Sara Southern

    Horrible stuff really. Religion I mean. Waste of time. Waste of energy. Waste of thought. Waste of life.

    Arrogance is the true principle of the Christ figure followers. (and dwelling in personal ego, me me me) MY god is the correct god, so I must kill you for saying it isn't. If killing is deemed a tad harsh, then its back to ego, and the haughty bit (foolish non-believer! Ha! Ha! Don't you realize that when I die, I get to go to a happy place where all the people I knew and love are waiting for me, ooooohhhh)

    Religion causes wars.

    This current age of Humans will die back in a spell, after Earth gets that big snort of methane we used our carbon to reach. I hope the next age of Human is able to focus on true compassion, exploration of what is, and just lose the ego.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • reported you

      when you see demons like other of Gods people do then you dont see it as a joke and then maybe youll wanna not do sin so easily

      February 26, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      When I see demons "like other of God's people do" I'll call Fathers Karras and Merrin, thank you very much. Or I'll get myself, right quick, to a psychiatrist.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      Dude, when I see demons "like other of God's people do" I'll call Fathers Karras and Merrin, thank you very much. Or I'll get myself, right quick, to a psychiatrist.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Too Old to Care

      Arrogance isn't only the domain of Christians.... Just saying.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Shine

      What about the Civil War caused by Religion? Not all wars are caused by religion. Your desire for compassion comes from a God. If not where do we receive our morality, standards, and values? According to evolution were we not evolved from primitive animals.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Mike Northern

      completely agree, the ice will melt, lol, they'll try to cool it but its already done. The Industrial Revolution that you'all learned about what happen way back a long long time ago you see here in Europe........darn Brits! It all comes back to them! If they hadn't been so darn cold living in such a dank wet cold place, then they wouldn't have needed to make all them fancy machines! (that made all the smoke, black crap, carbon people! c'mon keep up!) okay, so the carbon WENT into the atmosphere, forget about what's GOING in (well, no don't do that) but WENT means it happened and it kept on happening for centuries really, and between China, India, Brazil, Russia etc, its not really going to slow down much. SO. the ice will melt. the scientist men know this (and so do you! You on the couch with the Dorito's!!)ice melteth, really cool actually looking molecules underneath get released with.......boom! ta! boom boom! ta! Methane! bye bye Earth as we're used to. So the big question of the day, other than what sort of tasty nasty for your body but you deserve it piece of junk you're going to eat today, is when waterworld comes (so long Bangladesh you've been swell, Haiti you won't be missed, Andamans you will, ta ta Hague what's your judgement of me now!) yeah okay, so when we no longer recognize our coastlines or current maps in ooh ahh ooh say 37 years?, and all the god huggers and holy book peoples all over the planet say that it is their deity doing it......what really does that mean to a bean?

      February 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Soonpati Parataneum O'o'o'glacealla

      "If not where do we receive our morality, standards, and values? According to evolution were we not evolved from primitive animals."

      Sahib. with respect. I have heard you and I humbly give answer. Such thinking is folly! Why seek the answer to a question that could not yet be explained with a thousand books, and yet expect to KNOW it in a few words. Of course we are evolved from primates but this also in no way impacts your question. It is the nature of all that arises to change. Apply your mind not just to your current timeline but beyond even the centuries and millennia, into vast epochs of millions of years, and you will realize a mere glimpse of the arise is change nature. Things have been happening here for longer than we can perceive (and may continue to the Nth from this point in our string) Humankind uses roughly 9% of their Big Brain but this in no way means we have the answer to any given question. This is the sad lot that all organized religions have put themselves in. All of the major religions on the planet in the current year 2012 are old by our tiny amount of history standards. They were "written" when the world was young (and flat!) Too hard now to admit they're wrong! oops, back to the arrogance thing again, and maybe ego come here boy put down that rosary for a minute and hold this ((and what about women pastors? How much longer to we have to wait for that! ))

      February 26, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  11. bribarian

    "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."

    February 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      "and you sir, you are a codfish."

      February 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • bribarian

      Then answered the Jews,

      February 26, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      "I ordered gefeltafish, not codfish, you shmuck."

      February 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
  12. Remnant of God

    The Pope claims to be God on Earth!

    2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ~ Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Ed - Spring, TX

      The pope doesn't claim to be God on earth. I don't know where you got this. There isn't a shread of truth in your statement.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  13. Jesus

    Most of you are going to hell anyways...

    February 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Eric

      and where is this "hell" place you speak off. I can't go to somewhere that doesn't exist.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      Thank you, Jesus

      February 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • lee s

      Is there oxygen in hell to fuel the flames that are going to burn me? How can i feel pain if my soul has been separated from my central nervous system?

      February 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • anderson cooper we want you to receive Gods Love

      reported you for disrespect of Gods name

      February 26, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      reported you for abuse of Anderson Cooper's name.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • reported you

      No, i actuyally wanna get anderson attention so he knows how much we want God to know wants him. you are using Lord name and saying bullying names

      February 26, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • ashrakay

      god REALLY wants Anderson Cooper. wink wink. "Come here Anderson, I just want to give you a little love... nothing wrong with that..."

      February 26, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • reported you

      reported you kay. not tolerating anyone abusing context of what is being written nor using Lord name in vain.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      Reported you to Anderson Cooper himself, "Reported you." He'll be doing a special on you Tuesday morning.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      @Reported you: Just reported you to the INS. They should be knocking on your door in a couple days. haha.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • ashrakay

      @reported you, Did you report me to god or CNN? Because I was just trying to support your Anderson Cooper fetish. I don't meant no offense CNN.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • yeah

      yeah i did report cuz was tired of peopel usingstuff out of conetxt and abusing God name. i apolkogize if you are truely sorry. but there so many weird folk on tonight there alot of reporting. tc

      February 26, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • i would say so.

      wouldnt worry about it. just dont want peopel abusing Gods name. so mucgh abuse of Yeshua name on here...realyl not needed from people.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:49 pm |
    • ashrakay

      I was upset at everyone taking Anderson Cooper's name in vain. It's blasphemy to we who worship him.

      February 26, 2012 at 11:00 pm |
  14. mm_pdx

    If only there were a god who was actually listening to this garbage. But we all know there isn't.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • Eric

      He's really bad at disseminating information.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • atomD21

      I'm sorry, but you know nothing of the sort. You believe that. No one knows for a fact whether God is real. Let's stop speaking in absolutes.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • Eric

      it's very very very improbable that a god exists and it's absolute that Yahweh doesn't exist.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • lee s

      Adam, you have so much confidence for something you believe in. Lets do an exercise.. When do we use the word "believe? Santa Claus, Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, wanting a sports team to win something. If you can think of another use that actually depends on something concrete and physical Im all ears. "Believe" is another way of saying " I want it to be true so bad, no matter what" Well, in reality thats tough sledding.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:13 pm |
    • mm_pdx

      atomD21... ah, yes, The same old story. Prove that a god DOESN'T exist. Ridiculous. I see it (or rather DON'T see it) all around me. Not a shred of proof. Just some myths and fairy tales handed down from generations of people who, until recently, couldn't explain their own existence or surroundings and couldn't comprehend the randomness of their self-awareness. The only explanation was to dream up magical stories in order to get an answer to "why?" and "how?" Face it, you've been duped.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • almcg

      almcg2@yahoo.cot... no god..... bummer, that means we are resposible for our own behavior. .... no god to blame and no god to rescue us. We actually have to manage this nasty earth all by ourselves. Oh man are we in trouble.!

      February 26, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  15. atomD21

    Why is it we feel the need to use the Bible as a science book, weapon, accurate history of the world? I grew up in that world where the Bible was the be all end all of everything. Problem is, we claimed to believe the "whole Bible" yet ignored all the parts that didn't fit our particular agenda. After actually reading the thing, I continued believing in God, but threw most everything else out. The six day creation story (the first one, there is a slightly different one in chapter 2...) doesn't actually support a six day creation! The "day" when plants were created, God watched them to make sure they were flowering and producing seeds and fruit properly before calling it good. That's at least a year's worth of time! All of the stuff that was outlawed early on in the old Testament was done so because the people the rules were given to were walking through a desert. To pick one out, it's kind of hard to prepare pork properly to ensure the diseases that pigs carry around get killed off. They eat anything! That's not clean! The rules were designed to keep people alive in primitive times, not to show that God hates bacon! I see the Bible as more of a guidebook than something to be read literally. It shows us where we came from as a species and gives us ways to live to keep us from going back there. But instead of doing that, we through the progressive teachings of Jesus right out and gave the religious zealots command of the ship! Jesus was about doing good and loving everyone. Christianity? not so much. Who knows, I may be completely wrong in what I believe, but it works for me.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • lee s

      Religion is about personal choice, no two people see it the same, yet they still insist on being seen in church. Those people are the vain ones.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm |
    • Eric

      I wouldn't say it's a choice. I can't make myself believe something that I don't think is true. That would be illogical. Example: 2+2=4. Can't you make yourself believe that 2+2=5? That's how I feel about god claims.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  16. lee s

    LOL and the religious types eat up movies like "the passion of the christ"

    February 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
  17. Remnant of God

    To learn about the truth regarding the antichrist and the mark of beast go to – http://www.john1429.org

    February 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • lee s

      Why dont you start with proving god exists, then we will go from there.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
  18. Mike

    If we are not sugarcoating the BIble, let's not forget that Romans 3:23 says "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death." But God sent Jesus Christ to this earth to die for our sins that we can spend eternity with Him. Romans 5:8 and Romans 6:23. We are created beings that will spend eternity somewhere, please consider where you will spend it.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • Eric

      And you think the Bible is true because.....?

      February 26, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
    • popeye47

      The bible is the biggest forgery of all time. And think of the $billion that the churches have made off this con. And all the preaches that make a good living telling people what they want to hear.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      Then let's also not forget 2 Kings 2:23-24: "Then he [Elisha] went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!" When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number."

      Just keepin' it real!

      February 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm |
    • Eric

      one of the best stories. Children deserve to die because a guy is insecure about his bald head. Yeah, that punishment really fits the crime.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • Dwight Corvelo

      Thank you Eric. And lest we forget the immortal words of Ezekiel 23:20: "and she lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose issue was like that of horses." Quote courtesy of "God."

      February 26, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • almcg

      God sent a guy to earth so he could die . You mean after he created the entire universe he couldn't find any way of getting rid of our sins other than killing some body.? Isn't that just a bit strange? And he had to forgive us of our sins because .......... the home office was pressuring him? He was bored? We are just toys caught in a cruel game? Got has quite a sense of humor..... but I think he needs an intervention about now.

      February 26, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  19. popeye47

    Damn 63 pages of this imaginary god and the bible. who would have thought.

    February 26, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  20. Hello Moto

    TEsting 123

    February 26, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
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About this blog

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.