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Monday, July 28, 2008

I Want My Bible Back #1

I have known many well-intentioned Christians over the years that have favorite pieces of scripture they enjoy quoting or bringing in to the conversation as little quips or words of wisdom—little sound bytes and bite-sized references that are supposed to help in the moment …

such as . . .

the woman who approached me years ago as I was consoling a poor young woman who had just lost her husband and laid her hand on the grieving widow and said, “all things work together for good to them that love God, honey.”


Not only did I want to cry of embarrassment but the young woman I was consoling wasn’t a Christian at that point and the “wisdom” was not only horribly bad timing and callous, it only furthered her belief that perhaps the church had nothing to offer her. (Thank God her story turned out much better in the long run and that conversation didn’t wound her for long).

This auto-quoting drives me nuts. Auto-quoting is what happens when a religious person goes in to a mode where they--without much thought--quote a Bible verse they somehow think is the answer to another person's problem. It's not that they really want to walk a road with a person, they just offer up scripture as if it were a fortune cookie.

It’s not that I don’t love scripture. I can recall many times throughout my life where meditating on scripture has proved helpful in many ways to sustain, encourage, and strengthen me.

My disdain usually has to do with timing, lack of passion, and disconnection from the emotion of the situation.

I usually do pretty good ignoring those moments and smiling at people while nodding my head—praying I don’t open my stupid mouth and call their inappropriateness into question. Most of the time my response would be equally inappropriate.

Then there is what I like to refer to as the one-two punch or the double-kick to the . . . well, nevermind. It has many nicknames. It is the tacky use of scripture with an extra dose of “out of context.”

I am going to throw out a few of these jewels for us to examine in this series of posts entitled, “I Want my Bible Back.”

#1 Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it—Proverbs 22:6 (King James version because it is the one I most often hear quoted).

I sat at a restaurant with a friend a few years back talking about our children. He was devastated his daughter was beginning to make bad choices and was saddened that he was going to “stand before God one day accountable for his horrible parenting.”

Ummm, this guy is a GREAT parent. He loves his kids. He disciplines fair and consistently. Yet, someone at his Growing Kids God’s Way group made him believe his child’s actions were a direct result of his parenting. His “friend” in this group told him we would all stand before God as fathers and God would ask us if we did a good job training up our kids. It was implied that, if our kids made bad decisions, it was on our heads.

I just about screamed.

Without exegeting this text to determine what it means to “train up a child in the way he should go” let’s back up and start with the basics.

If you are going to quote scripture at someone (or you intend to use the Bible as a weapon) let’s first understand something about genres.

The Bible is—in my opinion and the opinion of a bazillion others—the inspired Word of God. It is also a book. A book that follows the rules of any piece of literature. Not only that, it is one book comprised of many little books. Those smaller books—though they fit nicely in the context of the whole bigger story—belong to many different genres.

The Bible is full of many different styles of writing and genres including poetry, prophecy, history, wisdom, song, and apocalyptic writings. It is full of humor, sarcasm, meter, adventure, love, murder, and a host of other things you would expect to find in a well-rounded movie or novel or series of novels.

It uses all the poetic and language devices one would expect from good literature including hyperbole (exaggeration) and descriptive language such as not letting the “sun go down on your anger.”

It is absolutely imperative we understand “what” we are reading in scripture in order to know how to interpret it.

We would not say the Bible is inaccurate because it mentions the sun “going down on your anger.” Even though we know the sun does not literally “go down” we understand what kind of a statement that is. It is poetic and figurative language.

We would not mock Jesus for saying he is the “Bread of Life” even though we know He is not made of dough. Bread of Life is a metaphor. We understand that.

In the exact same way, we must understand the Proverbs—where we find the verse in question—are just that. Proverbs. Things that are true about life most of the time. Wise observations about life that teach us lessons. A common cultural proverb is “the early bird gets the worm” but we all know people who sleep late and live off family trusts. Some of us rise early and work tireless hard hours and never see the kind of prosperity some slouches have. But, it is just a proverb. It is mostly true about life most of the time.

The Proverbs in the Bible are NOT promises. They are observations about wise living. It is often true if children are brought up in a loving Godly environment they will be influenced in such a positive way they will have the tools they need for a lifetime pursuit of God. It is also true that neglect and bad parenting will influence children in such a way they will most likely encounter much hardship in life and have a tainted view of God and family.

However, neither of these above situations are absolute. God can and does intervene in an individual’s life no matter what hand they are dealt.

Stay tuned . . .

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