I know a few couples who fight about the right and wrong way(s) to load a dishwasher. What goes on the top rack? How much pre-cleaning is necessary? How closely can you stack dishes? I wouldn’t dare to offer a resolution to the fight here. But I will say that when a disagreement over loading the dishwasher turns into a knock down drag out yelling match, the dishwasher is only a symptom of something much larger beneath the surface.
The fight over the dishwasher represents the relationship dynamics that give life and meaning to the marriage. Sometimes that life and meaning is beautiful and can hold people together through anything – sometimes it is dysfunctional and can allow something as insignificant as cleaning habits to cause great harm. The fight is important because it is a fight, it is clear evidence that something is wrong. But this kind of intractable fight can only be overcome when relationship dynamics are healed. And if the relationship dynamics are healed, the couple is likely to find a workaround – like having only one person ever deal with the dishwasher – rather than look for a fight.
To argue over whether scripture means what it says is like asking if a fight over the dishwasher is really about the dishwasher. Yes, it does mean what it says, just like the fight is about the dishwasher. But meaning always goes deeper than a surface reading and if we never get beneath the surface, we’ll always fight over symptoms and never find relationship, with God or one another. There is no way to capture relationship inside of words but there is also no way to be in relationship without words.
To assume the question of truth or falsity is as simple as “did God mean it” or “is it true” (no matter whether the answer is yes or no) is to do violence to the way life and relationship work. Seeking truth in the words of Scripture is like digging beneath the symptomatic fights of a marriage and feeling the reality of the experience underneath. Finding truth by the power of the Holy Spirit is like mending the wounds that have festered for far too long. Only in lived relationship, community, and tradition can we even know what our question of scripture actually means. Only through the healing power of God can we begin to live into the fullness of the truth we seek in the words we say.