If you wanted to find the real God, would you look in the Bible? Or does the Bible present a false version of God, a God shaped by myth and folklore, reflecting the thinking of ancient cultures more than two-thousand years removed from our own?
These are just a few of the questions pondered by biblical scholar and theologian Peter Enns in Curveball: When Your Faith Takes Turns You Never Saw Coming. The title is a nod to Enns’ former days as a baseball player, but in this case the curveball represents the author’s changing perception of God, which over the years has veered in a new direction.
Raised in a Christian household in New Jersey, as a teenager Enns began attending a contemporary evangelical Christian church, accepting the Bible as the irrefutable word of God. But something changed as he attended college at a small Christian university, followed by seminary school. The deeper he looked into the Bible, the more he began to question the logic of some of its teachings.
For instance, did God really visit Jacob, and then get into a wrestling match with him, dislocating Jacob’s hip in the process? Did God really punish the Israelites by banishing them to the wilderness for 40 years? Or cause them horrific battlefield defeats—due to their unfaithfulness?
Enns began to wonder if “the sacred texts should be read literally” or “whether they are best read figuratively or symbolically.” Over time, the religious professor at Eastern University came to several conclusions that were at odds with his Christian upbringing. Among them:
- The Bible is not truly a “book,” but an anthology of ancient texts written over a one-thousand-year time span.
- Many biblical books were written by anonymous authors living generations and even centuries after the events they describe.
- The biblical writings contain myth, legend, and folklore. They are not so much historical books, but religious and political lessons tailored to each writer’s audience.
Enns also questioned the two very different creation stories found in Genesis. He believes the Adam and Eve story screams to “please read me symbolically and metaphorically … anything but literally.” He found the alternate creation story, that God created humanity a few thousand years ago (in six days, resting on the seventh), does not hold up to the vast amount of scientific evidence showing man has been on earth for almost 300,000 years. Enns sums it up like this:
The Bible does not speak the language of science, but of faith in God expressed in ancient ways, where creation happens in six days or a garden houses two enchanted trees and a talking serpent.
Enns explains that the Bible was meant to be meaningful “for the people in that time and place.” But that time and place is long ago and far away. He states that, “believing in a God who demands that we continue to adopt only a biblically ancient ways of thinking of God is to diminish God’s active Presence here and now.”
Could evolution be God’s way of creating?
Enns would like us to consider the idea that God’s true handiwork can be found in evolution. He tells us that “God’s creative work did not end at the dawn of time.” It extends beyond the time of the Bible right up to the present moment. To this day, “God’s creative Presence and energy infuses all living things,” pushing us forward to greater complexity and knowledge.
(I once heard a similar sentiment from the Christian theologian Matthew Fox who stated, “God did not stop speaking to us after the Bible was written.” Fox believes that the Bible is only the beginning of the conversation. God has continued to speak to us throughout history, via mystics like Julian of Norwich, and speaks to us today.)
Enns can no longer entertain the idea that God is “a being who is in a perpetual state of anger, who causes floods and dooms the stubborn to disease, or who thinks that exacting a pound of flesh for being slighted is the norm.” His vision of God has moved beyond “a bearded (white) man up there,” to a God that encompasses everything, a God that is “responsible for it all” and is “ever active and ever-present with us here and now.” He summarizes:
God is not simply a big “thing” that is everywhere at once but woven in and though all of reality—all matter. God is vibrantly, energetically present in creation, from the inside out.
After decades of study and teaching on matters related to the Bible, Enns has come to the following conclusions:
- God is not “a being” but more like the ground of all being.
- God is always closer than we think, present with us and in us, along with all things.
- God is Spirit and is present in every atom and subatomic particle in the cosmos—in every person, in every creature, and every life-form.
So how do we get to know this God, and connect with the divine presence? We free God from the Bible. Like Richard Rohr, Enns believes that the goal of the Christian faith needs to be “the experience of God, not the comprehension of God.” Or in Rohr’s words, “we must move from a belief-based religion to a practice-based religion.”
Instead of finding God through the Bible or the church, we connect to the divine, or what Rohr calls “a compelling Presence and an inner aliveness,” through personal experience. Right here and now, at this very moment if we so choose. The “immediate, unmeditated contact with the moment is the clearest path” to the true experience of God.