I will keep the Bible as a field manual which was never meant to be a substitution for the field. —Barbara Brown Taylor
Back in 2001, my husband and I went on a mission trip to east Germany. It’s the only time in my life that I’ve been overseas.
Much as I’d like to see more of the other continents, there’s no guarantee that I ever will. And I realized that going in.
So I was determined to treat that mission trip as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I wanted to see and experience as much as I could in the ten days we were there.
Eric and I still like to joke about the day we visited Wartburg castle, the site where Martin Luther sought refuge and had his famous quarrel with the devil. We got to see the proverbial ink blot on the wall.
Because we were indeed on a mission trip, our time for sightseeing was limited. This particular day, we were nearing the end of our allotted time, but Eric and I were determined to climb to the top of the castle tower before we left.
As we rushed to beat the clock, we passed one of our fellow travelers on her way down. “No need to go up,” she said. “I got it all on video.”
We still chuckle about it.
As if having it on video would ever be a substitute for actually experiencing it. As if her tidbit of information would make us turn around and go, “Whew. Okay then. No need to climb all those stairs.”
It’s laughable and ridiculous.
To think that one would be there, continents away, thousands of miles from home, and then just turn one’s back and say, “Nah. I’m good.”
- It would be like visiting Paris and skipping the Eiffel tower.
- Or traveling to the Caribbean and never going to the beach.
- Or attending an orchestra concert and listening to music in your headphones the whole time.
Truly. . . things that make you go hmmmm. . . .
Too often, we Christians do the same thing with the Bible.
When Christians Make the Bible Into an Idol
I believe we are dangerously close to trying to make the Bible into some magical fourth person of the Trinity.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe the Bible is God’s truth. I love the Bible and have devoted years to its study. I unquestionably consider it to be God-breathed, inspired by the very Spirit and heart of the Creator Himself.
And most importantly, I regard it as nothing less than God’s message of love to His children, His revelation of Himself in a beautiful epic story told in human terms so that we might begin to understand.
- But I don’t believe it’s a history or science textbook.
- I don’t believe it’s a telephone book full of facts, numbers and statistics (well, except maybe the book of Numbers!).
- I don’t believe it’s a document dictated word by word into hyptonized humans who write as though possessed in a seance-like activity.
I believe the Bible, but I don’t worship it.
And I think too many Christians these days do.
We complain about monuments of the Ten Commandments being removed from public places. And yet these (ahem) quite literal graven images — ironically forbidden by the 2nd commandment — end up becoming more important and worth fighting for than actual flesh-and-blood people made in God’s image.
That we can so easily condemn whole segments of our population to hell and in the same breath defend our right to keep our granite idols standing seems preposterous.
Yet it happens.
How are we so blind?
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. –James 3:9-10
The Bible is not and was never meant to be God.
It was always intended to point us toward God. To draw us to the person of God. To help us know Him and His infinite mercy. To reveal the extreme lengths to which He will go in order to have us back in his loving embrace.
Blogger John Pavlovitz puts it so well:
I wish more Christians would admit that the Bible, at its most perfect and inspired, is a collection of words about the ocean. They are not the ocean itself.
God is the ocean.
The words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail. The words are filled with good and lovely things that give us some frame of reference, but ultimately, God is far too big to be contained in those words.
The Bible is not God. The Bible is a library filled with inspired words about God. We can discover and explore and find comfort there. We can seek the character of God, and the message of Christ and the path we’re to walk in its pages.
We can even love the Bible. I certainly do.
But we should worship the God who inspired the Bible.
As a musician, I’ve always understood music to be a living and breathing art form.
Whenever I perform a piece, I inherently know to appreciate that performance as a once-in-a-lifetime, stand-alone expression of my art. I will never play or sing it precisely that way again. I will not have the exact breath or movement or emotion or tempo or nuances the next time.
Each individual performance is it’s own. It’s why live art is so magical and breathtaking.
Recorded music can be enjoyed. But it can never be a substitute for the live performance.
The Bible is very much a work of art, a gift, a beautiful true story given by the Creator Himself.
But it was never meant to be a substitute for God himself.
He is the real thing, the live performance, the actual experience.
The Bible is is the photograph. When we look into it, we learn to recognize God.
So love the Bible. Read it, study it, by all means learn from it. It’s vital in the life of the Christian.
But don’t use it as a substitute for God Himself. Don’t turn the Bible into an idol.
Instead, let it point you to the One worth worshiping. He is no photograph.
He is the real thing.
What are your thoughts? Will you share your ideas in the comments section below?
Have We Made the Bible Into an Idol? by John Pavlovitz for Relevant Magazine
Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor
*Disclosure: Affiliate links included in this post.