Crossing Sacred Lines

Have we forgotten that the people in the Bible were real human beings with flaws, failings, and fears? We remove them from the often-brutal historical context they lived in, draw sanitized pseudo-sacred lines to appease our North American sensibilities. Why?

Flawed Characters

I didn’t grow up in the Church. I didn’t attend Sunday School, didn’t read story books depicting Daniel petting cuddly lions, or Noah and his pristine happy-kumbaya-singing petting-zoo-arc. I didn’t grow up singing about David and his mighty men, or Joshua marching around Jericho with his trumpets.

I didn’t start to read the Bible until I was a young adult, but I avoided the stories of David, Daniel, and Jonah. I’d heard about these perfect do-gooders. What could those perfect men teach me? Instead, I was drawn to the story of Dinah – a victim of rape, forced to live out her life alone because she’d been defiled. Abigail who dared defy a king, a woman praised for her beauty and wisdom but married to a fool. Rizpah who stood guard over the corpses of her two sons, sons of a king, whose temerity saw their memory honored. Leah, the woman who spent most of her life trying to gain the affections of her husband — without success. Tamar, a daughter defiled whose father seemed to care more about public appearances than justice. Hagar, an abused servant who was called to go back to a terrible situation.

“Never trust a leader who doesn’t limp.” Ed Cyzewski (source here)

These women got raw deals, decks stacked against them, but their stories ended up in the Bible anyway. I’m so glad the Bible isn’t filled with cherub-cheeked-perfect-saints. Who can relate to that? Sometimes there isn’t justice in this life. Sometimes the people we’re supposed to trust let us down. Sometimes God seems too silent, sometimes we’re called to stay in hard places without explanation. But our lives are part of a bigger narrative, a larger plan, and we’re not forgotten or overlooked.

It was a long time before I mustered the fortitude to read the account of the biblical giants like David. You know what I found? He was just as flawed as everybody else. David had multiple wives, committed adultery, was a murderer, envious, sometimes prideful, and on most accounts failed as a parent.

What? How could this be the same man? The only stories I ever heard were about David keeping a vow to his best friend, David leaping and dancing before the Lord, David defeating Goliath with only a sling and some stones, the least brother anointed to be king.

The last set of stories are easier to like, they’re stories that seemingly justify God calling David a man after His own heart — as if David somehow “did stuff” to earn accolades. God measured David based on the sincerity of his heart, his motivations, his humility. What I’ve come to focus on is not so much the specificity of his mistakes, but in how David dealt with them.

So many friends who grew up in the Church struggle with this idea that they’re not good enough. Sure, they know in their heads they’re saved by faith but deep down in their hearts they have doubts — could God ever really use them? They have to ‘do’ better ministry, pray harder, study more. But it’s never enough to “earn” the grace they acknowledge is free for all. There’s a disconnect between what they ‘know’ and what the church culture has taught the.

Can we stop drawing sacred thou-shalt-not-cross lines around biblical people? Noah is called a righteous and upright man, but that doesn’t mean he never struggled, never messed up, or questioned God. He spent 120 years building a massive boat on dry land. Some in his own time might have called him crazy or obsessed. He was HUMAN!! David was a man after God’s own heart who screwed up BIG more than once. Moses is a hero of the faith despite the fact that he was a murderer, lacked self-confidence, and had angry outbursts.

Let’s let these stories off the flannel-graph pillar. They speak to how big our God is that He can use such flawed characters. Because maybe that means He can use me too?

What if we — as a Church — stopped being so concerned with our pseudo-sacred lines from children’s stories and acknowledged these people were as imperfect and flawed as we are? These stories are so much richer if we consider them within a realistic historical context. By refusing to acknowledge their failures, their imperfections, we leave ourselves little room for grace when we mess up, when we fail, when we react out of fear or pride. God doesn’t search out the perfect man or woman, He seeks out the ones who follow Him despite everything else that goes wrong.

What do you think?


  1. says

    Great points, Lisa! I’ve often thought about this as well — how we ignore the truly flawed, human side of our biblical “heroes.” My own favorite Bible character, though, is Peter. I can totally relate to him because he messes up over and over and over, and yet he doesn’t give up. That’s my inspiration. If the guy who told Jesus to stop talking nonsense, who opted for physical violence by cutting off a soldier’s ear at Jesus’ arrest, who denied he even knew Jesus, etc. can get back on track and become a giant in the faith, I can keep going too. Flaws don’t disqualify me from grace.

    Thanks for this reminder!
    Julie Glover recently posted…What the Acknowledgment Page Reminds Me

  2. heather says

    fantastic points! i remember one adult sunday school class i took where we were talking about the disciples. i said that, in one story, they’re just arrogant and self-righteous and were acting like the cruel “cool kids” in high school. the looks i got!!!! LOL heaven forbid anyone point out that the story of noah was, in fact, dystopian in the purest sense. i mean. it was so messed up, even God ran out of patience and decided to destroy the whole thing!! remind people that Jesus’ family thought he was insane and wanted to send Him away, and they think YOU are insane and want to send YOU away! LOL

    the other day, some of us from church were talking about anger. one man mentioned road rage and how we can just assume how Jesus dealt with it…. i (somewhat) jokingly pointed out, “Jesus never actually had to deal with road rage since there were no cars. cultural context is important. but we can remember that He once impulsively cursed a tree to death because it have the fruit he wanted… out of season… and He got pissed off and killed it.” the man tried to spiritualize that story, tried to figure out what it’s supposed to teach us. i’m going with, “Jesus was as human as He was divine. He was hungry and stressed and sometimes a tasty treat makes everything ok.” (and before we all start thinking that Jesus wouldn’t comfort eat… He had a reputation as a glutton, so… 😉 )

    anyway, my (long-winded and ranty) point is… the thing i love about the Bible is the humanity in it. no one is perfect. even the perfect One. they’re flawed and weak and just like me. makes for a much more accessible Divine when even the God-Man gets testy when His blood sugar is low. 😉

    • says

      Not sure I’d go so far as to say Jesus was a glutton, cause gluttony is a sin. But to say that Jesus never got angry or frustrated isn’t right either. I ‘m with you on that. Thanks for commenting. ((Hugs))

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