19 May 2013

The Bible Idol

Recently a friend began a discussion on the concept of whether or not some Christians make the Bible an idol. After all, anything good can be made bad by worshipping it rather than the Creator, right?

Someone who loves nature can find that the desire to admire forests, mountains, rivers—rather than leading to thoughts of how wonderful the Creator must be, if the creation is so beautiful, may instead lift thoughts no higher than the exhilaration that can come from adoration. Nature then becomes an idol.

Or those who play or watch a sport may find their thoughts persistently interrupted with the need to think in that vein, to skip fellowship to be out on the field or court,  to neglect relationships and duties to scream at a television screen. Sports then becomes an idol.

Or for those with a creative bent—as the spirit explains to the ghost in a C.S. Lewis' novel—they may begin with a desire to share glimpses of heaven and end by worshipping their very method of communication or, ultimately, themselves.

"Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells, to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn't stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower—becoming interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations."~The Great Divorce

Hmmm... Does that sound familiar? Not of an artist you may know, but of a Christian? Maybe it's you; maybe it's me—"becoming interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations." Yes. I know that disease.

It may start as love for God, but then morphs into a love of a habit, thought, (God forbid) a favourite Bible verse. Then in their "zeal without knowledge", they print signs saying who God hates, they picket military funerals for reasons that don't relate to the family or the deceased, they preach truth without love or love without Truth (is that love?). In these cases we live as devils in the name of Jesus!

But is it correct to say that the Bible can become an idol? Maybe. But more accurate, I believe, would be to say that our understanding becomes an idol.

If we choose pet verses and miss the balance of Scripture, we break the Law of God.
"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it."

Interestingly, the above verse is in a passage in James exhorting the churches to not show favouritism. Whether we twist Scriptures to damn a fellow Christian or someone outside of the faith for not adhering to the convictions we feel, we show favouritism. We accept those who think like us and treat anyone else as enemies. This partiality is equivalent to bias towards the rich over the poor, which is specifically addressed in James. This divisiveness makes enemies of those who do not think like we do.

If someone is an enemy, what did Jesus command? Instead of hating your enemy, He said "I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

If someone is truly wrong, living in sin, love would have them repent and reap the mercy of God, but pride wants to condemn them without a trial. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, wrote: "To make intercession means to grant our brother the same right that we have received, namely, to stand before Christ and share in His mercy." 

And, I would argue, this is the same right (to be prayed for) should be given to the lost too, who are not yet born again; therefore, to pray for an unsaved sinner, is to acknowledge that I was once in sin and (still struggle and have) need of God's mercy, and, but for His grace, I may have become worse than they.

True love desires that the one loved live in such a way as that he or she will benefit from the grace of God. You cannot love someone and desire their temporary happiness at the cost of their eternal happiness or at the cost of the value of their life. 

To want the best for someone, may require what some call "tough love." This does not belong just to the rebellious, who choose what is recognised as bad, but may also apply to one who is lazy and seeks pleasure rather than God. It may be necessary, out of love and only from love, to share with them the way of Truth, and pray they repent rather than reap the consequences of their sins. If they don't and the harvest of consequences comes, then love would lead one to come along side them to bear the burden and find the Saviour. 

Love and Truth summarize the whole Bible. As Mart DeHaan, former President of RBC Ministries, loves to tell—all Scripture either points to Christ as the Hope of all time or, by showing sin and weakness, points to our need for a Saviour. 

We, none of us, are guiltless. We all are responsible to be one who "correctly handles the Word of Truth." To "correctly handle" Scripture, one must be in it faithfully, consistently, listening, repenting, correcting our focus from one thing back to the Saviour and from another thing back to the Saviour. 

We will be accountable for knowing Scripture and for applying Scripture rightly (as this verse specifies). To know Bible passages and quote them does not prove you are righteous for even the devil quoted verses back to Jesus. 

Our knowledge of the Bible must be lived in obedience, love, and humility. If we find ourselves isolated from others, it may well be that pride has entered causing division. And, it may not be their pride, but yours or mine. Dissension and pride of any kind are something God hates.

Therefore, for our own standing before God, we must know and rightly apply the whole of Scripture to our own lives. But, also for the sake of the Body of the Messiah, to which all born again followers of Yeshua are members (arms, legs, hands, hearts), we bear responsibility.

"An element of sickness gets into the body; perhaps nobody knows where it is from or in what member it has lodged, but the body is infected. This is the proper metaphor for the Christian community. We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction." ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When we stand before Yahweh, will you and I be "approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed"? Today is all we may have.

What are your thoughts?

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