In math, science, engineering–really any field that deals with interpreting data–all data reductionists (to make a really boring job sound really fancy) learn about the line (or curve) of best fit. Let me explain (no, there is too much, let me sum up). When data is taken, it is never perfect. There is always noise or interference of some sort so that the points don’t fall exactly on a perfect curve. It would be nice if they did, but they just never do. So, generally, scientists will take their data, begin with the type of curve they’re expecting it to follow (maybe a line or a parabola or a sine curve, for instance), and then do some complicated maths (as they would say here in England) to find which curve of that type “fits” the data best. Here’s a visual aid:
Problems arise, however, when there is a small data set. For instance, if you removed all but four of the above data points, you would most likely get a drastically different best fit line. Sometimes, if the data set is narrow as well as having a small sample size, you can even get the shape entirely wrong. The end of a parabola and node of a sine curve can both look a lot like a line if you are zoomed in close enough. But if you used a line to describe the data, you could make A LOT of invalid assumptions based on that.
So why am I blathering on about math and curves and data and yaaaawn? Well…because I feel like Christians tend to do this kind of a lot. Lets think about the Bible. It’s a rather large book. There are certainly a lot of words in it. Sometimes (when you’re trying to read through it, for example), it might feel like maybe a large data set. But then try looking out your window at the garden, or contemplating DNA, or perusing the Milky Way on a starry night. And then tell me again how the Bible is a comprehensive look at God. In other words, God and the things of God are WAY TOO BIG to ever be even remotely described in a single book. The Bible is the cliff notes at best of the history of His work. More like the summary on the back of the book. What I’m trying to say is, the Bible is an extremely limited data set. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe it is a carefully cultivated data set and God chose it specifically to give us the salient points. I just also think we need to stop trying to make best fit lines out of it.
Every Christian denomination has a “best fit line.” THIS is the way to read the Bible. THIS is what it says God is like. THIS is what He wants from us. THIS is how He sees us. We draw our lines and then make our extrapolations. I guarantee we’re all at least a bit wrong. The thing is…I don’t think our data set has noise. I think all the points He’s given us fall EXACTLY where they’re meant to. I just don’t think we’re big enough to see it. We need to stop trying to draw our best fit lines, our tidy conclusions, because I don’t think any of them can even come close. With our limited perspectives, our limited knowledge, our limited perception, there’s just no way we can even begin to conceive of what the Bible is hinting at. You might as well cover the Mona Lisa with a cloth, poke 100 tiny pinholes in it, then ask an artist to recreate it from what they can see through the holes.
So why do we insist on trying?! Why do we have to nail everything down to some nice formula or creed? Why can’t we just read the Bible and accept that it’s true, regardless of the confusing bits? Maybe those bits are confusing because there’s a something complicated going on that we just don’t get. See, the thing about best fit lines is that THEY DON’T ACTUALLY GO THROUGH ALL THE DATA POINTS. So churches make their creeds and stand on their nice line and judge someone who’s not on it with them, even if that person is standing solidly on an actual data point. Now I’m coming across as judge-y. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be. It’s a bit of a nerve with me right now, because it’s destroying the unity of the body of Christ. Instead of loving one another and just trying to muddle through this thing together (because, let’s face it, it’s confusing), we draw our lines and plant ourselves on these constructs that don’t even resemble the thing they were based on anymore.
Can we please just love one another? Can we stop trying to study the Bible to fit it to our pre-drawn curve, or even to try to better adjust our curve? Throw out the curve! Could we just study it to see what it SAYS? Now, I don’t want to say that every metaphor or parallel or attempt to make sense of the Bible should be thrown out, just that we should see them for what they are: tools to help us understand a bit better or hopefully give us a slightly clearer view of what’s going on, not foundational principles of truth.
*Steps off soap box.*
I know I am just as guilty of all of this as anyone else, and I’ll probably turn around and fall asleep tonight with my brain busily trying to tweak my lines around to get them to fit better, because that’s how my brain works. But hopefully I’m getting a bit better at letting my lines fade each day. Cheers to a line-free life! No fences, no limits. Let’s live our best free-range Christian lives. All the love ❤