Last week in church, we finished up the “Puzzled by the Bible” series with a look at Revelation and the end times. Scripture references alluding to evil and suffering and hell are never among my favorite, so I chose to pass on writing a post for Michelle’s “Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday.” Instead, I wrote about the hell of shoe-shopping with my daughter.
However, as the week went on, I couldn’t escape one image that my pastor created. He recognized that some people don’t like discussing hell–they’d rather ignore those passages in Revelation–and by doing so, they are effectively ripping out the pages of the Bible they don’t like. The only problem, he pointed out, is that if we rip out those pages in Revelation, then we have to rip out the passages in the Gospel where Jesus alludes to hell. And if we rip out the passages with Jesus, then we have to rip out the prophets who foretold of Him, and so on and so on.
And as he started ripping pages, it became obvious that soon we’d be left with nothing.
While my pastor later revealed that he was actually ripping pages out of an old encyclopedia, the image stayed in my mind. Because the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we all figuratively rip out pages every day.
Perhaps we are very comfortable pointing out the sins of society, take a literal view of Creation and God’s commandments, and strive to live a righteous life, but we gloss over James 1:27:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
All of a sudden, our literal interpretation of Scripture becomes figurative or allegorical. We read a general mandate of doing good deeds, so we’re content to continue pointing out the sins of others while 143 million children live without parents in this world. We drive by the nursing home on our way to work, not once stopping in to visit that widow without family.
Or maybe we devote our life to doing good deeds and working for social justice. We do care for the orphans and widows and spend our Saturdays in the soup kitchen. Yet, when it comes to the reason for why we are compelled to act with mercy and love, we stay silent. We read the story of Peter healing a paralytic, yet we ignore the most important words he speaks: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3:6, emphasis mine).
Perhaps we don’t want to call sin, sin. We look to the changing time and culture, so we rip out pages there. We don’t want to forgive our brother for offending us ten years ago, so we rip out the passage that says to forgive seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22). We keep ripping and ripping, and pretty soon, we’re left with some passages from a good book.
But not the Word of God.
Because we wouldn’t dare destroy words that God himself instructed.
As I walked through last week thinking over this image, I became fearful. Where was I ripping out passages, and what do I believe? Do I truly believe the Bible is the Word of God, or have I made it a good book, treating it like a buffet where I grab a little of this and a little of that?
The implications for either are great. Because if the Bible is the Word of God, then there are serious commands that I must follow, but there are also wonderful blessings. However, if this book is a just a good book, then I can pick and choose what I want, but there is no more power in those words than the bestseller I grab off the shelf in the bookstore.
And on which type of book would I rather place the foundation of my faith, the reason for how I live?
So this morning I knew I needed to at least give the topic consideration. I could no longer ignore the question chasing me last week. And so I ask (nervously) this morning, God, where am I ignoring you? What pages have I ripped out of your book?
Where are you ripping out pages, and are you content to do so?