How Do I Process the Weird Stories in the Bible?

Sam Larrabee • 7 minutes

I love the Bible, I really do. But can I share something? The Bible can feel weird, and by that I mean it has often made me uncomfortable. Can you relate? You know the Bible is full of life-giving hope and truth, but it’s also full of strange rules and stories that can make it hard to understand. 

Plenty of people like me struggle with stories they don’t understand in the Bible. But what if the parts we don’t understand could create in us a curiosity that leads us to dig in and discover more about God’s nature? 

My hope is that, by the end of this article, you find yourself less worried about the weirdness of the Bible and more excited to explore the next strange story you find in Scripture. 

Why Is That in the Bible? 

For the longest time, I’d start reading some epic story, only for it to transition into a multi-chapter DIY manual for building a tent, followed by a highly engaging set of law codes involving animal sacrifice. And, eventually, I’d start asking myself, what is going on here? What does any of this have to do with my life? And how is this supposed to help me get to know God? 

For a while, sadly, I stopped trying to read the Bible altogether. I couldn’t see how the stories of plagues and God making a donkey talk could help me today. 

And yet, I kept having these moments where I felt the close, comforting presence of God in my life. I knew there must be something missing from how I was reading and thinking about the Bible. So, I started exploring how to bridge the gap between the strange picture of God I saw in parts of the Bible and the one I knew personally. This led to the question, what even is the Bible?

What Is the Bible For?

Growing up, I’d heard ideas like “the Bible is God’s love letter to us,” or “the Bible is God’s ultimate instruction manual.” But those answers seemed too simple to match my questions about the Bible. Because few love letters need to include how to properly sacrifice a goat, and few instruction manuals have changed my life, much less the world. 

So I went searching for another way of thinking about the Bible. One that didn’t downplay its strangeness and could still help me get to know and experience God through its pages. 

Who Wrote the Bible?

I began to see the Bible as a library of books written by diverse authors seeking to understand and display God in their particular places and times. Each author wrote to a specific group of people with their own culture and perspectives. 

Some of it is history, some is poetry, some is moral code, and some of it is mail sent to specific people. 

Now, that might sound chaotic, but God does tend to operate outside of our control, and the Bible is intentionally designed and inspired by God to help us become more like Jesus. 

All of the writers had different personalities, perspectives, and backgrounds, and they brought their point of view to Scripture. None of them had “the whole picture” of what God is like, but together, this collection of inspired perspectives creates a portrait of what God is like—and it culminates in Jesus. 

In some ways, the Biblical authors were similar to us.

Like us, the authors of the Bible were working things out and asking hard questions—and some even had doubts about God. They weren’t perfect, put-together divine messengers. Instead, they were messy, flawed people through whom God still chose to reveal Himself.

So, when we read the Bible, we get to learn from their experiences, achievements, mistakes, and failures across generations. God put these stories together to show us what He’s like (and sometimes what He isn’t like), how He’s moving, and how He calls us to live. Some stories are prescriptive for how we should live, others are descriptive of how messy life can be.

Why Is the Bible Strange?

So, why the sacrifice, violence, and strange-to-us rules in the Bible? Well, it’s important to know it was written by people living in an ancient world. They had the same level of intelligence as us, but a lot of customs, cultural practices, and beliefs have changed since their time. 

So of course there are going to be some parts of the Bible that seem odd to us. Animal sacrifice, for example, was a normal part of ancient Near Eastern culture, so it’s natural that the Bible would contain instructions for how to worship God through sacrifice. 

Even though we don’t need to sacrifice animals anymore, those stories can still tell us something about what God is like. God didn’t need those sacrifices either, but He chose to use that common cultural practice. Maybe this was God’s way of relating to people through an easy-to-understand cultural medium? That’s something I’m curious about. We can see God in Scripture eventually leading His people away from animal sacrifice

Today, these weird stories in the Bible can remind us that God wants to relate to us today. It invites us to consider questions like “How might God be speaking to me through the music I listen to, or through the movies I watch, or the culture I’m a part of?” Or “How is God leading me to change culture?”

What about the other things I don’t understand in the Bible? 

We could spend countless hours talking about Bible stories like the two bears, the pillar of salt, and the talking donkey. And my friends know I love talking about Jonah and the huge fish.

On the surface, they might seem like unbelievable Bible stories—but they all have something to show us about God. If you’d like to learn more about specific Bible stories as well as the big story of the Bible, check out organizations like the Bible Project and the BEMA Podcast. They’re great places to start. 

Loving the Bible for What It Is

You might have the best coffee machine in the world, but if you stick some fruit in it and try to make a smoothie, it’s probably not going to work out too well. When we pick up a Bible, or open our Bible App, it helps to have the right expectations. 

If we expect a short and sweet instruction manual, we’re going to struggle as we read through some of the stories. And if we expect to feel happy, encouraged, or positive whenever we read the Bible, then we’ll have a hard time with some of its honest engagement with the challenges we face as followers of Jesus. 

Instead, let’s love the Bible for what it is: an inspired collection of books that provide wisdom, provoke questions, offer direction, tell us of God’s love and desire for us, and invite us to wrestle with how to become more like Jesus today. 

Finding wisdom

The Bible is a book designed to help you become wise. Wisdom allows us to make great choices and live with integrity.

Sometimes we gain wisdom from reading a simple, powerful Bible verse. Other times, we gain wisdom by reading a confusing story that we need to pray about, process, and discuss with others. Sometimes we won’t know exactly why a part of the Bible was written down, but that’s okay. We grow closer to God through the journey of discovering the many layers of Scripture.

You Can Get to Know God

The Bible contains stories, songs, and histories written by people who want to know what God is like. If we pursue reading the Bible, we can get to know God better too.

Of course, it won’t be too long before you reach something strange, uncomfortable, or even disturbing. That’s okay. And it’s okay to feel a little shaken up by some of the passages. I certainly still do sometimes. 

In those moments, I start asking questions like “What’s the deal with angels?” or “Did the Nile river really turn into blood?” and “Why was Jesus so mad at the fig tree?”

These kinds of questions are normal and natural, and can help grow your faith. Keep exploring and seeking out other great resources to help you grow in your understanding of the Bible as you get to know God and become more like Jesus.

A Prayer for Reading the Bible

Whenever you have moments of confusion and doubt while reading the Bible, pause and pray something like this: 

God, I want to get to know You. Please help me understand this part of the Bible that doesn’t make sense to me. Help me find resources or people who can provide some clarity, and help me trust You with my curiosity about the Bible. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

As we read the Bible, we get to see how past generations got to know God in their time, location, and culture. And as you read it through that lens, you begin to see the beauty in the strangeness. If you keep pressing in, I’m confident God will use some crazy Bible stories to make a big difference in your life.