Perfect Imperfection

2 Samuel 24:1 Occam
Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”

1 Chronicles 21:1
Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.

Is God Satan? Is Satan God? These are two logical conclusions one could draw from reading these two passages in the Bible about the same event.

Scripture is filled with contradictory statements like this. For those who care about scripture, there seems to be two standard responses:

1. Those who think scripture has human origins that express the evolving thoughts of the authors over time look for historical reasons why the authors would express that. These people are not threatened by contradictions and typically have their faith and understanding strengthened as they learn the historical reasons for these contradictions.

2. Those who believe scripture has divine origins and assert there are no errors in the Bible look for ways to explain away or harmonize these apparent contradictions. These people see these apparent contradictions as threats to their perspective and aim to defend their viewpoint.

Accept or Defend – these seem to be the two basic options.

Occam’s Razor

The Franciscan Friar William of Occam is known for his theory called “Occam’s Razor”, which says if there are several possible ways something might have happened, the way which uses the fewest guesses is probably the correct one (assuming the simple explanation and complex explanation work equally well).

Here’s an example of applying Occam’s Razor: Two trees have fallen down during a windy night. Think about these two possible explanations:

1. The wind has blown them down.
2. Two meteorites have each taken one tree down and, after striking the trees, hit each other removing any trace of themselves.[13]

Even though both are possible, several other unlikely things would also need to happen for the meteorites to have knocked the trees down, for example: they would have to hit each other and not leave any marks. In addition, meteorites are fairly rare. Since this second explanation needs several assumptions to all be true, it is probably the wrong answer. Occam’s razor tells us the wind blew the trees down, because this is the simplest answer therefore probably the right one.

Accept or Defend

What if we apply Occam’s Razor to the above scripture contradiction? How would that look?

Option 1 – Accept

  • Actual humans actually wrote scripture in their times and places.
  • Realize the 2 Samuel passage was written 600 years prior at a time when the Israelites still saw their God as one of many (but the most powerful) and did not have the concept of Satan.
  • Realize the 1 Chronicles passage was written 600 years later after the Jews had become more firmly monotheistic and borrowed the pagan foil of Satan as the excuse for people being tempted.
  • Conclude that there is no contradiction, just two presentations of the story based on differing cultural norms across 600 years.

Option 2 – Defend

  • Start with assuming scripture is of Divine origin based on… scripture (circular reasoning and a huge presupposition)
  • Create a definition for “inspiration” that is unlike any other time “inspiration” is used elsewhere in history
  • Create a series of ideas based on that definition of “inspiration” that implies God dictated (in some capacity) all of scriptue through humans.
  • Assume that every time scripture mentions “the word of God” that it means all of scripture (even the scripture that hadn’t yet been written).
  • Assert that scripture has no errors based on other Bible verses that mention “the word of God” as being “perfect” without regard to definitions of “word of God” and “perfect”.
  • Force a scenario to explain away the contradiction based on the presupposition that there can be no contradictions since “the word of God” is “perfect”.

Are both of these “possible” explanations? Sure.

Do both of these explanations work equally well? Based on the numerous presuppositions, re-definitions, and vested interest of Option 2, I would say absolutely not. Option 2 has many more moving parts, defies history, defies linguistics, and includes logical fallacies in its approach.

People who support Option 2 often say that if Option 1 is correct (that scripture is of human origin), then it’s totally useless and not worth studying. And from their vested interest standpoint, it probably seems that way.

But for Option 1 people, scripture is more sensible, reasonable, and functions as ancient, diverse, and often ambiguous “wisdom literature” that requires our interaction, careful consideration, and the freedom to apply it as we see fit rather than having such applications determined and controlled by whatever “religious authorities” oversee their tradition.

A word from the Word

Jesus said “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” He’s not referring to the Bible, which only existed at that time as the 39 books of the Hebrew scriptures.

Jesus promised that when he was gone, the Holy Spirit (not the Bible) would guide his followers into all truth.

Jesus is referred to as The Word of God in scripture. He used that authority to reframe, restate, and at times subvert texts from the Hebrew scriptures to make his point. He misquoted passages of scripture (as did the apostle Paul) in his teachings.

Jesus said “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The example of his life clarifies what God is really like, regardless how God is described in the Hebrew scriptures.

When scripture is read with presuppositions overlaid like rose-colored glasses, of course everything will appear rosy. All the real colors will be thrown off and obscured. I used to see it that way. But now I prefer to approach the sacred writings without the presuppositions, appreciating it’s perfect imperfection.

This is how far…

Once upon a time there was a young man of suspicious background who had an idea…


He proposed a way to repair the heartache and injustice in the world, a way that would set things right, restore relationships, help the marginalized, rouse the satisfied, strengthen the weak and humble the proud. It made sense… but it was costly for most to actually do it, to actually be that honest and open and compassionate. He decided to show them exactly how far they might have to go and what the cost might really be…

He started with the religious leaders who seemed hyper-focused on guilt, shame, and fear of their “god” and his rules. He said they were missing the point, that all the negativity they zeroed in on only led to more and more negativity and turmoil. He tried to show them the benefits of his way, even helping people who were desperate and in need. This only further angered the powerful religious people, some of whom were quite wealthy. They decided to get the government involved to stop this young man.

The government was happy to let the police beat this young man badly, hoping he would just shut up and go away. But he didn’t – he spoke truths to the governor that were unsettling. They threw him in jail while the governor considered what to do…

Meanwhile the religious leaders gathered a crowd together to demand this young man be punished. They screamed and protested outside the governor’s mansion until the governor finally relented and agreed that they’d had enough of this young man and his idealism. They scheduled his execution for later that day.

The young man didn’t protest. He didn’t plead for his life. He didn’t try to escape, fight back, or anything of the kind. He was saying, “This is how far love will go to help those who need it.” This is how far…

A month and a half later, his students were still hiding out, confused and lacking motivation to move forward. And then it finally hit them – something crystallized in their minds and hearts and they GOT IT. It was right around a national holiday where thousands came to their town to celebrate – the perfect time to keep the message of the young man alive. So they got on their soap boxes and started proclaiming the same ideals the young man had proclaimed… and people in the crowd started to get it, too.

Some of the out-of-towners decided to stick around for a while and learn more about this. Those who ran out of money were taken care of. Those who needed food were fed. Those who were sick received the help they needed. It was an amazing and thrilling time!

Unfortunately, as these things go, people lost the vision. They traded the ideals for peace with the government. They turned the ideals into just another religion, one that would ultimately oppress and shame those who still held to the ideals and practiced them. Sometimes the religious leaders would even invoke and involve the government to help them manage these who remained idealists… but the idealists didn’t care, because they remembered the actions of the young man many years ago that said, “This is how far love will go to help those who need it.” This is how far…

And so the cycle continues.