In comments on my original theodicy post, Jennifer made several comments like this:
You could reject special providence, but I find it hard to reject the special providence if you're going to hold that the Scriptures contain anything that resembles truth regarding the nature of God
Sure enough, it is a royal mess. You have God dropping pillars of smoke and fire, smiting people hither, rescuing people thither, impregnating a virgin, sending angels here, sending angels there. You have Jesus walking on water, miraculously healing people, miraculously feeding people, and rising from the dead. You have tongues of fire, apostles freed by strategic earthquakes, casting out evil spirits, and raising the dead.
And then you have me sitting here, saying that this sort of behavior poses a logical dilemma that can best be resolved by saying that, in fact, God didn't do those things.
Now it's easy to see how I could maintain this belief and reject the validity of the Bible. And it's easy to see how I could abandon this belief and accept the validity of the Bible. The odd thing is that I'm saying that the Bible is valuable, but that God didn't do all these things that the Bible says God did. If the Bible contains all this misinformation about God, how can it be valuable?
I'm going to begin my answer by making an assertion about the Bible: The Bible was not written by God.
For some people, this statement will be terribly obvious, and for others it will be terribly offensive. For those who find it offensive, I'll just mention the internal contradictions in the text (variations in the number of Solomon's stalls and horses in 1 Kings 4 and 2 Chronicles 9; insects with four feet in Leviticus 11, how long Jesus spent in the tomb, yada yada). But if none of that makes *any* impression on you, please consider the following biblical story from Numbers 31:
"Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD's people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man."
And the LORD was displeased with Moses for his lecherous and genocidal counsel, and struck him dead on the spot.
Oh, wait, that's not how it ends, is it? It ends like this...
The LORD said to Moses, "You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. Divide the spoils between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community."
The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
I find that offensive. So now we can all be offended.
Really, though, my point is that it's difficult to read the Bible as a Perfect Book provided by a Perfect God. Either God's severely messed up, or the book is, and (based on the theological axioms I mentioned earlier) I have to prefer the latter.
Now if you're still with me, let's go on to another assertion: The Bible is, first and foremost, a collection of stories. It is not a divine rulebook. It is a story about how people - mostly, Israelite people - have experienced God in some unusual circumstances. Like all stories, it was written by a person (actually, many people) with differing goals, values, biases, priorities, perspectives and ethical blind spots. Like all stories, it was written for a particular audience, within a particular society at a particular point in history. This doesn't mean that other people can't read the story and learn things from it, but it does mean that there's probably a disconnect between what the text meant to its intended audience and what it should mean to us.
These two assertions encourage us to approach the text very cautiously and interpret it with an eye to the likely biases of the writers. When a writer says, "God said this," we should read that not as a divine claim that "God said this," but, "I think God said this," a statement that could be true even if God didn't really say such a thing.
This is the generous approach, by the way. The cynical approach would assume that the writer was intentionally putting words in God's mouth to get the God Trump for manipulating people.
So there's one way in which the Bible could be considered true: it's true insofar as when people say, "I heard God say this," we can assert that those people are telling the truth, although it's possible that they could have been mistaken about what God actually said.
But I don't think this goes far enough. The Bible has been revered for thousands of years by millions of people, and seems to capture some deep truths about the human experience of God.
I think this is the sense in which we should understand the Bible to be true. Somehow, it distills many human experiences of God into a single compilation. And so rather than trying to figure out whether we have to be baptized to be saved, or whether God created the world in 7 days, we should be looking for broad themes that are woven throughout the Bible. It's here that we can expect to see God's inspiration, threading hints about Divinity through its disparate stories, occasionally surprising us, continually nudging us toward goodness and love.