Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How (Not) to Use the Bible

A couple of recent news stories involving the Bible caught my attention.

In one, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that a twenty-three year old woman attempted to walk out of the downtown Cincinnati public library with a copy of The Prophecy Study Bible without checking it out. She has been charged with theft. As the news story pointed out, she would have done well to heed the “Thou shalt not steal” admonition contained in the Book.

How ludicrous! How could anyone be so interested in the Bible that she would steal one when it teaches that we shouldn’t steal? To be fair, maybe she hadn’t gotten that far in her reading yet.

Yep, that’s pretty ludicrous. Of course, it’s ludicrous that so many of us Christians tote around the Book that says “Pray for your enemies” when instead we are doing all we can to do them in.

It’s ludicrous that we carry the Book that teaches us how to deal helpfully with fallen sisters or brothers when instead we talk about them behind their backs.

It’s ludicrous that we read the Book that tells us not to lie when instead we bend and even break the truth in order to further our own agenda.

It’s ludicrous that we claim to be submissive to the teachings of the Book that contains the social preaching of the Old Testament prophets and then we promote a strictly individualistic view of salvation that allows us to leave the great social ills of our time unaddressed.

It’s ludicrous that we pledge allegiance to the Book that talks about individuality responsibility, justice, and judgment and then we fail to take seriously the precarious position of so many people before God.

It’s ludicrous that we call ourselves disciples of the Teacher who is described in the Book as having no place to lay his head and who consistently taught us to pursue the treasure that lasts for eternity when instead we pursue the same materialistic lifestyle that “worldly” people pursue.

It’s ludicrous that we learn in that Book of the Prince of Peace and we are instead proponents of war.

On second thought, maybe “ludicrous” doesn’t begin to cover it.

The other story was about a street preacher in Athens, Tennessee who refused a police officer’s order to move away from the side of the road and then hit the officer with his Bible.

That’s showing him the love of Christ.

Of course, we do tend to beat people over the head with our religion. I remember a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy said that she thought she would be a good evangelist. She was sure that she could convince others of the superiority of her religion. When asked how she would do that, she said, “I’d hit them over the head with my lunch box.”

We do more harm than good when our motivation is the exhibition of the superiority of our religion; we do more good than harm when we joyfully share the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

We do more harm than good when our primary use of the Bible is the winning of religious arguments; we do more good than harm when our primary use of the Bible is the proclamation of God’s grace as known in Jesus Christ.

We do more harm that good when we take the symbolic literally or the literal symbolically; we do more good than harm when we take the symbolic symbolically and the literal literally.

We do more harm than good when we keep our Bibles closed so as not to have its teachings mess up our conclusions; we do more good than harm when we open our Bibles and read them so that the words contained therein can inform our thoughts, our feelings, and our actions.

They were just news stories, but they got me to thinking about how we use and misuse the Bible. Perhaps we should confess our failings in that area and try really hard to do better. After all, the way that we handle Scripture impacts the way that we deal with people, and such witness is mighty important.

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