How the Bible should be revered but not worshiped.
As a young child and at the point of first questioning matters of life, death, God, and everything in-between, I discovered the Bible.
It was first thought that this book possessed a magical quality, so I slept with the Book underneath my head, and expected spiritual wonders to happen. Waking up the next morning, my head hurt, and my ear was sore from rubbing against it. This approach was immediately abandoned.
As a young adult, the Bible expanded my mind about the world around me. It gave a framework of how to live. The joy of connecting with a greater power, the freedom of conscience, and knowing what true love is, are by-products that I am always thankful for.
On the negative side, it became a way to avoid the complexities of life and personal situations. Everything was black and white with little or no grey area. Discussion was not necessary on the majority of life challenges because the Bible had already endorsed or rejected a multitude of situations. I didn’t have to think. It was already pre-packaged and done. It was an easy way-out, and it kept me in adolescence for a few more years than normal.
There are rewards for learning to read the Bible that extend beyond the religious realm. Literacy is one of them. It is a foundational pillar that Evangelicals stress with new believers. This is a concept that everyone has to learn to read the Bible for themselves. This emphasis not only makes some new believers who struggle with social or economic disadvantages functionally literate, but it often increases the literary skill-set from intermediate to advanced. This attainment leads to improved critical thinking skills and gives confidence for higher education and better job prospects. It opens a whole new world.
The close connection between literacy and the Bible has existed for centuries. Missionaries have used the Bible to not only spread the Gospel, but also to put unwritten languages into written form and subsequently develop literacy within many populations initially unreached by western civilization. When these people groups finally intersect with the western world, their literacy positively aids the many health, cultural, legal, social and political problems that typically arise. Wycliffe Bible Translators is an organization well known for this type of work. Bruce Olsen, a missionary to the Motilone tribe in Columbia, is a well known personal figure for this approach.
There is a problem side to Bible reading. . . the over-adulation of the Bible. This can be expressed in a number of ways.
It has caused much bloodshed. For example, Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel, outlined how the Spanish used the Bible as a source of provocation and subjugation against the Incas. In 1532, when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro first encountered the Incas and its leader, Atahuallpa, he summoned a Friar to bring a Bible before Atahuallpa. Atahuallpa, not knowing what it was, threw it on the ground. This gave evidence to the Spanish that the Incas and their leader had repudiated God’s word — they were heathens. Therefore, it was legally allowable to slaughter and subject them to the King of Spain and the Church.
Many radio, TV and Sunday preachers often say, “the Bible says…”, as if the words of this Book are the final authority. A statement that indicates that many are in the position of over-adulation of the Book.
Jesus spoke out against over-adulation of the Book, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (NKJV) He is addressing the fact that the Bible is not an end in itself. It is meant to be a reference point describing something far greater. So sleeping with the Bible, obeying the exact words, or even worshipping it misses the point.
This leads for an important question to ponder. Is God jealous if we worship the Book and not Him?
The Bible can refer to a source of great liberation, but can equally enslave and do serious damage if employed incorrectly.
This is not a problem of God or the Bible. It is part of the weakness of the human character. This same type of behaviour is also exhibited in communism and democratic capitalism where untold lives have been taken in the name of an ideology. It is not a problem of the system, but a flaw in either a personal or corporate character that has misapplied the real meaning.
The Book is meant to reveal the character and nature of God. It is not purposed to cover all aspects of everyday living in some written legal form. Our daily living is to be derived from what we understand who God is, who we are, and then simply do what is right.
God is not too concerned about the sacredness or inerrancy of His Word. On the contrary, He may allow for imperfections to exist in order to prevent our civilization from idolizing the Book over Him. If the Book is perfect then this would make God almost unnecessary in our everyday lives. Why do we need to be in contact with Him if the Book suffices with all we need?
Also, if the Book was perfect and we adulate it as a legal text then it does not require personal or emotional connection or genuine concern for others. This approach can allow for inhumane practices or disrespect against those in need. In many cases those in positions of authority can hide behind the veil of legal texts and remain apathetic.
It means we don’t have to think and don’t have to care if the legal obligation is simply being met. This is dangerous.
Life is complex and the human condition always wants to reduce problems to a simple formula. Reducing complex social and personal problems to simple black and white solutions abdicates groups and individuals from personal involvement.
For example the problem of abortion. It is not directly written in the Bible that it is wrong, but it is inferred. On a legal basis, one is only obligated to say it is wrong and do nothing more. A mere legal analysis of the text allows people exemption in caring or helping out where an urgent need exists.
The moral obligation on this subject is completely different. Everyone is morally obligated to love, which may mean providing housing, clothing, counseling, adoption services, and other forms of assistance to remedy a critical situation such as this. However, this requires more effort, action and resources. Observing the legal responsibility is much easier than the moral route.
One may argue that the Books of Moses were written purposely as a legal code. This is correct, but if one stops at the legal level, the point is missed. Jesus Himself spoke in such a way that encouraged everyone not to live just by the law, but to live by the spirit of the law which goes beyond simply fulfilling the legal requirement. We are to first love our neighbour, and if this cannot be achieved then the legal text is a proven and necessary secondary fallback. We must always try to live by the spirit of the law first.
Of course the primary objective of altruism rarely or seldom appears, but one must always pursue this goal.
To read the Bible in order to discover the character and nature of God, rather than a legal text is a difficult adjustment for many. For example, “thou shalt not kill,” is a very general term, but Scripture repeatedly demonstrates that God loves all regardless of gender, race, religion, age, or ethnicity. If one simply accepts, “thou shalt not kill,” as a legal contract, it doesn’t require anyone to think about God, or others. It simply means not to kill. But if one continues to read the Bible to build a clearer picture of what God likes and dislikes, it will become clear that deprivation, torture, denying access to food or health products, child-slavery, rape and so many other circumstances that kill a person emotionally are a form of killing. If the text is taken literally, the moral sense is lost.
Some issues cannot be tackled by personal reading of the Bible. Technology has brought about new concerns that the Sages of 2000 years ago would never believed possible. Problems of end-of-care, euthanasia, chemical dependencies, changes in the marital relationship, new definitions of sexuality, gender issues, and much more cannot be easily figured out by the individual person alone.
The Bible isn’t about rocket science either. Almost anyone with reading skills can read and follow without much difficulty, especially anything after the first five books of the Bible.
These are wandering thoughts on the subject and are by no means final. It would be great to hear your views and practices regarding the Bible. Your comments on the subject would greatly enhance this conversation. One can leave a comment on the main website here, or go to Facebook, or dialogue at Twitter.