God Squad: Bible's truths take many forms

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God Squad Rabbi Marc Gellman

Rabbi Marc Gellman writes about religion for Newsday. ...

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Q. Has anyone who believes literally in Genesis ever calculated how many humans, in addition to Adam and Eve, God actually created? There had to be quite a few to provide spouses for Adam and Eve's descendants, and then later for Noah's descendants. Isn't it strange that those creations are never mentioned?

-- S., via email

A. For those of us who believe that the Bible is true, we must be sensitive and rational and loving and attentive and pious in our explanation of how and why it is true. It is not enough to just assert the truth of the Bible.

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The truth of the Bible must be carefully and intelligently explicated. What I believe is that the Bible is not a book about everything, but everything in the Bible is true in some sense. This is what I mean by "in some sense": I believe that some of the true things in the Bible are true because they actually happened. They are historical events, like the Exodus from Egypt, or the ancient Israelite empire, and historians and archeologists can prove their validity.

I believe that some of the true things in the Bible are true because they describe a moral code that has sustained and ennobled civilization for 4,000 years, like the commands not to steal and not to murder and not to commit adultery and not to oppress the poor. These are true moral judgments and can be affirmed by secular philosophers using unaided human moral reasoning.

I believe that some of the true things in the Bible are true not because they happened or did not happen, but because the meaning of the biblical story is true, even if the facts are not. For example, there are no talking snakes, but the Garden of Eden story is true because it teaches us through a fable to respect God's loving commandments. All the animals did not fit on one boat, and a flood did not cover all the Earth, but the story of Noah and the Flood is true because it teaches us that our moral failings can, indeed, imperil all life on Earth.

Finally, there are those parts of the Bible that could be true and are true in a miraculous way that's only accessible to people of that particular faith -- like the story of Jesus' resurrection.

I realize, of course, that biblical literalists hold that everything in the Bible is literally true. I love and respect these people, but I part ways with them over this belief. My faith in God doesn't require me to believe in talking snakes or donkeys.

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I'm uplifted by God's work in nature and history and morality. I'm challenged by the task of making my life reflect my creation in the image of God. If the debate about the truth of religion hinges on the proof for talking snakes, religion cannot, I believe, expand its message of hope and meaning to a world in desperate need of salvation and healing.

Truth can come in many forms and from many sources. It can come from ancient sacred texts and from unaided human reason, and from music and art and literature. It can come from many different religions, each sensitive to one of many facts of God's revelation of the truth to humankind. If you can glean this hope and meaning from nonreligious sources, God bless you. If you find your path to meaning aided by the sacred teachings of the Bible, God bless you, too. There's too much work to do in our broken world to spend time insulting each other for the many ways we use to find our way to virtue and hope.

Last week, not a single person at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Lindenhurst asked the cold, hungry victims of superstorm Sandy who'd come to the church for succor to answer the question: "Where did all the people in Genesis come from?" Not one person asked the people bringing donations in the back door of the church, "Do you believe in God?" Sometimes, the way we show the truth of the Bible and the truth of faith is to show our belief in each other.

As to your specific question, as far as the other people God created, the Bible just isn't concerned with explaining where they all came from. It's only interested in explaining that wherever they came from, they are all made in the image of God.

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