Bible Stories for the Non-Religious: A Word of Introduction
Bruce G. Epperly
I believe that the Bible is an adventure book, a library of stories that invite us to experience holiness, surprise, and wonder in everyday life. If you aren’t part of a church, you might think that the Bible is only about doctrines or things you’re supposed to believe – often impossible things - to be part of a Jewish or Christian community. But, in the beginning was the Voice and Vision, the encounter with a Living Reality that changed people’s lives.
Religious people often call this Living Reality, Voice, and Vision, by the name “God” as if this were God’s first name. But, God can’t be contained by words or even images. In a fourteen billion year, one hundred billion (or so) galaxy universe, no words can contain the Creative Wisdom, Energy of Love, or Tao of Holiness that gives life and energy to all things.
A Jewish maxim says that God created humans because God likes stories, and the Bible is all about stories. Now, some people think these stories have to be factual to be of value – they believe that there had to be people named “Adam” and “Eve” or “Jonah and a Whale” and that all the stories about Jesus happened exactly as they are written. Some people believe that the Bible’s Book of Revelation, along with Daniel and a few words attributed to Jesus, give us the secrets to the End of the World, and so they look for doomsday – and so far, they’ve always been wrong! But, I take a slightly different path. Native American (Amerindian or First American) storytellers often conclude their tales with these words: “it may not have happened this way, but it’s still true.” They know that “truth” and “fact” are often two different things. Facts point to what is (two plus two equals four); whereas truth portrays the deeper realities of life and death, what gives us meaning and purpose, and provides comfort when life disappoints us or tragedy befalls us. Truths can’t always be put into words, they are often embodied in the lives and adventures of people just like us.
The Bible is a book of stories – some call them “myths” that point to the intersection of the divine and human, and to God’s call and our response. For the Biblical world, God is moving through all things, not supernaturally from the outside, but as intimately as our breath. I call this reality the Voice and Vision, because that’s how the first storytellers encountered the divine in the holy here and now. Only later did doctrines and theology, or talk about God’s relationship to the world, emerge.
In the next few months, I will be telling Bible stories for the non-religious. I believe that these stories can illuminate our lives and give us wisdom and guidance in the same way that the wisdom of Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Gautama still transform people’s lives. We will encounter stories describing the divine-human call and response involving personages like Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Ruth and Esther, and we may even look at Jonah and the Whale. I’m not going to worry about the chronology of these stories, though I will start with stories from the First or Old Testament; I will follow my own intuition and insight into the ordering.
We’ll also hear stories about Jesus and his followers, about Peter, Paul, and Mary of Magdala, about persons with leprosy and social outcasts. We’ll even meet Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph. We may even explore a few of Jesus’ stories, often called parables.
Don’t worry about believing anything. Pause awhile and let your imagination wander. The Bible is an adventure book and it fulfills its purpose if it invites you to see your life as an adventure, too! May you find beauty and love on the journey!
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He has taught at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is currently theologian in residence at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His most recent book is Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. He can be reached for lectures, seminars, and retreats at firstname.lastname@example.org