To say that the word “literally” is overused would be an understatement. Rob Lowe’s character on “Parks and Rec” is the perfect example of how ubiquitous this word has become – he literally says literally ALL the time to mean basically…. nothing.
How ironic that we can’t even take the word “literally” literally anymore!
So when I say that I am literally reading through the Bible in 2015 alongside an amazing group of women, you can be sure of a few things:
- I am not actually “by, at, or to the side of” the women joining me on this journey, as the word “alongside” would seem to indicate.
- The group of women is not “causing great surprise or sudden wonder,” as my use of the word “amazing” would seem to imply.
- I am not taking everything I read in the Bible literally.
From the very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible, there are words, which if taken literally, contradict each other.
Genesis 1:26 says “Then God said, ‘Let US make human beings in OUR image, to be like US.’”
Then, one verse later, Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created human beings in HIS own image. In the image of God HE created them; male and female HE created them.”
This reminds me that God is so much bigger than gender. Even though we’ve attributed the male gender to God in most parts of the Old Testament, it doesn’t mean God is actually a male. His nature is just so complex that we can’t possibly comprehend it, and to discuss it, we have to give Him a gender. HE can still relate to my every problem and worry as a woman. As a woman, I am still created in HIS image.
I know, of course, that when He talks about Himself as a “we,” it is also a reference to God being the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but it still signifies just how much bigger He is than we can comprehend. All of the words chosen in the Old Testament, right down to the pronouns we use for God, cannot properly contain or describe Him, because He is beyond comprehension.
When I come across things like “He was sorry He had made man,” in Genesis 6:6, I remember that there is no word to describe how it must have made God feel to see His creation let sin destroy all that He had made. Of course He wasn’t really “sorry” in the sense that He had made a mistake and actually regretted it, because that would imply He is not perfect.
Just like He is not really a single man, but we use the word He most of the time to describe Him, the word “sorry” was just the closest word that could be found. I could over-analyze the word “sorry” to death, intellectually poking holes in what I am reading, or I could take a deep breath and try to look at the words on a different level.
God is not an unfeeling, distant God who created us, gave us free will and then sat back on a recliner to watch the greatest reality show of all time. No, He is intimately involved in this world, to the point that when He saw evil in the world, He grieved deeply. He is a personal, feeling God. I imagine He is still devastated when He reads our modern headlines of brutal terrorist attacks, senseless school shootings and every other kind of evil imaginable.
When I put aside trying to make perfect sense of everything I’m reading, the stories convey to me timeless truths about God. Instead of trying to take every possible meaning of every word until I find one that makes sense, I remember that if I take every word literally, I will literally miss the forest for the trees. Well, not literally, but you get the point.