This week some U.S. government officials used and abused the Bible for their own purposes, quoting verses without context or thoughtful insight. My first instinct? They need to shut up!
One of them, the Attorney General of the United States, is reportedly a religious man. Well, that’s nice…
He confidently lifted thoughts from St. Paul in Romans 13 as part of his speech to law enforcement officers in Indiana. Well, okay I guess…
“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.” Wait a minute – the man who wrote those words was later killed for insubordination to the Roman government. Awkward…
And those verses were also quoted by the Confederate States a-hundred-and-a-half years ago to justify slavery. Really awkward…
Oh, and Nazis used it too before that big world war. Stinkin’ awkward…
So did he also miss that the ‘beast’ (in the Bible) is describing an evil leader and his powerful government that was mistreating people it didn’t like? Do us all a favour, stop justifying yourself and shut up!
The idol of proof-texting is when people pull something from the Bible in order to BOOM! clobber their opponent with a knock-out quote. We only have ourselves to blame from a tradition that has changed the Bible into a simplistic book of moralistic rules, Sunday School stories, brow-beating sermons and ways to be right.
However the Bible itself doesn’t cooperate with that type of use: it is not a to-do book with linear imperatives or hammer verses. It is not a science book or history book or answers-to-every-question-of-life book. It’s not intended to be skimmed over and scavenged for ripe information. It’s not like watching a movie. It’s not a straight line. It’s not a magic book with hidden codes and spectacular prophecies. It’s not simplistic, flat or manageable.
Those approaches subtract from it, demean it, make it shallow and more human than holy. People who treat it that way end up using it for their own purposes like we saw this week, whether it be in government or in church or in a family. When it’s just a quotable holy book we end up fighting about things like posting the Ten Commandments or keeping the Lord’s Prayer in schools but ignoring care for the poor, love for our neighbours and prayer for our enemies.
The Bible is deeply layered, widely voiced; it’s nuanced, artistic, emotional, earthy, revolutionary and surprising. Scripture isn’t safe with those who feel the need to worship it and quote it. Instead it’s depth and diversity demands our time and openness so we can interact, examine and reflect. It warms us and molds us and confronts us and moves us. The Bible is a relationship.
As I recollect, my first Bible was given to me by my parents when I was quite young, maybe about the time I was learning to read. It was the size of a paperback with a black faux-leather cover and red edging on the pages.
My first interaction with this book was to push my brain into memorizing Revelation 3:20 for some reason. I can still remember on one occasion walking in to the living room where my parents were sitting and trying to quote it for them. I’d forget a word and frustratingly go back to ‘re-memorize’ only to return and fail again. And again. And gain. I don’t remember actually conquering it that evening but I must have because to this day it falls out of my mouth with no effort. Here it is (without peaking), ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in with him, and will sup with him, and he with me.’
Bibles were pretty much always black back then with the occasional white one appearing for gifts or girls and always with a full-length ribbon book mark that would flay out past the bottom of the pages by one or two inches, maybe three inches depending on the size of your Bible.
If you were able to afford it, you had a genuine leather Bible: calf skin if you wanted easy use; thick cow hide for longevity and bequeathing to your descendants. If you were a pastor it was also nice if it was big and contained a concordance, maps and some cross-referencing system.
In my pre-teen world they were all King James Versions, translated in ye olde Shakespearean type English: terminology, measurements and words (like the aforementioned ‘sup’) dated from the early 17th century.
And always the gold leaf words on the spine and front cover, ‘Holy Bible’.
Except the Bible isn’t holy. Wait, what?
That and some more to think about in my next post (because I love the Bible but people annoy me when they manipulate it and force me to write a two part blog post).