The Power of Myth

May 10, 2020

I’ve been reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans, partly because it was available on my Bible study app and partly because I no longer know how to read scripture or what “inspired” even means. I enjoy her humor and frank honesty about her own struggles and misbehavior—it feels like she has invited me into her secret society of misfits and screwballs. That’s a crowd that makes me feel right at home, even if I, like Rachel, look pretty normal at first glance.

In the aftermath of the Bible’s collapse, at least the the Bible I was raised with, I’m having a hard time putting any stock in it as an unbiased, factual account of history. I was raised in the buckle of the inerrancy belt, which is kinda like the Bible Belt, only more northern, Dutch, and Reformed. We were all in on the efficacy and perspicacity of scripture, except that we didn’t gamble or play cards. The Bible was a sure bet. So, naturally, when the fall came, I fell hard. It’s not so much that I reject scripture; it’s just that after believing that every word had to be divinely inspired and true, now I couldn’t trust that any of it was. How could I? I’d been taught for so long that inerrancy was an all or nothing proposition that when I could no longer believe it all, nothing was my only other option.

If I can’t take scripture as literal truth, then how do I take it? One perspective is as myth—I don’t mean myth as in an old fib or fairytale, but myth as in an origin story—how we organize the otherwise random events of our lives into coherent narratives that give us meaning and purpose and explain us.

We’ve so denigrated stories that the word has become an insult—just a story—but stories held in common are what hold a culture together. People are willing to fight and die for their stories—that George Washington couldn’t tell a lie, Abraham Lincoln ended slavery, and God blesses America. If our stories are good and true, they lead us to do things that are good and true. If our stories are self aggrandizing and full of holes, they can wreck our lives.

I no longer believe scripture is an unbiased, factual account of history. I do think it’s a bang-up collection of stories about life. Even through the world around us has changed immensely in the last few thousand years, people are pretty much the same, and we have the same kinds of problems. If we read scripture in the right way and in the right context, we can learn a lot from it, whether or not we believe it came from the mouth of God. Or maybe if we would like to believe that but just can’t right now. Maybe our community will have to believe for us. Others pray for us, not meaning that they intercede with God for our benefit, but that they pray our prayers for us because the words of our prayers, any prayer, cannot currently escape our lips. Our community believes the stories of scripture for us in the same way.

Ken Tryon @ArtGeek