On Saturday night my wife showed me an article she had found that was written by a woman who said she had “divorced” Jesus. I was curious too, so I started looking at the article also, and what I read in it was incredibly disturbing. This woman had a litany of complaints concerning the way she felt that the Bible proved that God was emotionally abusive, and what instantly stood out about all of the examples that she gave was that even though she was trying to make her point by quoting the Bible, she was taking its words out of context. The impression I got from reading her words was that she had been taught to believe things that the Bible never says, and that realization boldly underscores the necessity of getting the Bible right when we teach and study it. To that end, I want to point out two huge pitfalls that we need to be aware of so that we don’t find ourselves making the kinds of mistakes in the way we handle the scriptures that lead this woman to be so angry at God.
First, we need to make sure that we don’t take the words of the Bible out of the context they were written in when we interpret what they mean to us in the present day. Take for example the Psalms. Let’s look at Psalm 127:
[Psa 127:1-5 HCSB] 1 Unless the LORD builds a house, its builders labor over it in vain; unless the LORD watches over a city, the watchman stays alert in vain. 2 In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food — yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves. 3 Sons are indeed a heritage from the LORD, children, a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth. 5 Happy is the man who has filled his quiver with them. Such men will never be put to shame when they speak with their enemies at the city gate.
There are some who would take the last three verses of this Psalm to mean that God commands Christians to have families that are as large as possible. The woman who wrote the article about her anger at God certainly thought that’s what this Psalm was saying. But what is the context of those last three verses? What comes before them? Doesn’t the Psalm start out by saying that the Lord needs to be the one that builds a house? Yes! So then, is this a Psalm about the necessity of having huge families or about looking to the Lord to lead our lives? I’m leaning pretty far towards the latter option, especially considering that it is thought that this Psalm may have been written by David for Solomon, and we know from scripture that the temple in Jerusalem was built by Solomon because the Lord wouldn’t permit David to build it.
The second huge error we need to avoid is that of starting with a belief and then trying to twist the words of the Bible to justify it. The Bible is supposed to guide and inform our beliefs and behavior, not the other way around. We don’t have the liberty to try to jam things in the Bible to justify beliefs and actions that it was never written to support.
Let’s look at Revelation 22 for an example. Here’s what the second verse says:
[Rev 22:2 HCSB] 2 down the middle of the broad street of the city. The tree of life was on both sides of the river, bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations,
You know, I actually listened to one preacher who used this verse as a springboard to talk about the ineffectiveness and unpopularity of the healthcare system in the United States. While he’s entitled to his opinion, and he may have even been right in some of the things he said, he doesn’t have the right to jam his political beliefs into Revelation and then claim that his opinion is what the Bible teaches. This verse is describing things of Heaven! No one’s sick in Heaven, so no one needs healthcare there! Is anyone going to care what political party anyone else used to support when we find ourselves face-to-face with God? Of course not. Something tells me the Apostle John wasn’t thinking about Obama-Care as he was writing down what he saw in the vision he had been given.
The point of all of this is that there is a danger that comes into play when we don’t get the Bible right. Misrepresenting God is a serious matter, and it’s something that we need to do our best to avoid. No one’s perfect of course, and we all make mistakes and learn from them, but we shouldn’t let that dull our sense of how important it is to get the Bible right, even if we have the best intentions. Is it right for a charlatan to take the Bible out of context? Of course not. We get legitimately upset when we see a story in the news where some quack has grossly twisted scripture for his own ends. But it’s not right for well intentioned people to take the Bible out of context either. There’s just as much damage to be done by glossing over the uncomfortable and difficult parts of the Bible as there is by teaching false gospels, and we need to be wary of both.
Get the Bible right.