God creates human beings who rebel and turn paradise into terror. They murder, rape, lie, cheat, steal and commit every atrocity imaginable. God tells them not to, and asks them to change. When they screw things up, he makes things new. He frees the Israelites from slavery, and every time they turn to evil, he forgives them. He sends prophets to correct abuses of religious and political power and to bring justice for the poor.
God’s primary commandment is “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He asks people to love each other and to forgive each other throughout each and every book of the Bible.
God loves humans so much that he becomes one of them. When many religious scholars take Leviticus passages out of context, God himself does what his prophets have throughout the bible. He violates the holiness code and tells everyone directly and clearly – love for God and your neighbor is the entirety of the law and the prophets.
God undergoes terrible suffering and death in order to bring humans closer to him. His followers tell of his unconditional love and his free grace. The consequences of sin are terrible, which is why God forgives all.
God doesn’t treat humans as slaves or servants but adopts them as his own children and heirs to everything.
The Biblical story isn’t pieced together by finding verses or passages in isolation, but through reading the entire collection of books, and reading them in light of reason, scholarship, and the oral and written tradition that have accompanied them.
Whether you believe it is sacred or not, every part of the Bible should be read in context of the whole. (This is true of any work, religious or not.) Many of the atrocities committed by Christians in Jesus’s name have come from snatching pieces of the Bible away from their full context – ignoring their literary genre, historical, cultural and linguistic context.
Difficulty is understandable – Shakespeare is often impossible to understand without footnotes, a good dictionary and encyclopedia and we’re much closer to Elizabethan English than we are to Ezra’s Jerusalem. Experts don’t always agree on what a passage was supposed to mean — which makes scholarship and the long tradition of commentary even more important.
Confusing poetry with science, confusing a redactor’s descriptions of ancient legal code with moral absolutes, confusing parable with history, metaphor for literalism and treating the Biblical anthology, with all of its contingencies and diversity as if it was supposed to be read in the way the Wahhabis read the Qur’an has lead to terrible atrocities and ridiculous absurdities.
Sometimes I imagine Jesus, who spent most of his ministry denouncing the way that the Pharisees ignored scripture’s message of love in favor of textual legalism, slapping himself on the forehead when he sees the ways many Christian denominations turned Paul’s rant about Roman Bacchanalia into a new legalistic code.