let's get naked

Unpopular Opinion: The Bible is Not Your Self-Help Book

“A crowd of troublemakers from the town surrounded the house. They began beating at the door and shouting to the old man, “Bring out the man who is staying with you so we can have sex with him.”

The old man stepped outside to talk to them.

“Here, take my virgin daughter and this man’s concubine. I will bring them out to you, and you can abuse them and do whatever you like. But don’t do such a shameful thing to this man.”

But they wouldn’t listen to him. So the Levite took hold of his concubine and pushed her out the door. The men of the town abused her all night, taking turns raping her until morning.

Finally, at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman returned to the house where her husband was staying. She collapsed at the door of the house and lay there until it was light. When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. He said, “Get up! Let’s go!” But there was no answer. So he put her body on his donkey and took her home.

When he got home, he took a knife and cut his concubine’s body into twelve pieces. Then he sent one piece to each tribe throughout all the territory of Israel.”

Judges 19:22-29 NLT

 

Well.

Let’s all take a moment to let it sink in that this is “God’s Word.”

Isolated into its own story, it makes the Bible look horrific…my atheistic brain would wonder how anyone could endorse the Bible. However, when we put this story into the entire context of the biblical narrative, it tells an astonishing story of a people who decided at the time that God’s law was obsolete, and that they could create their own subjective morality. The theme of the entire book of Judges focuses on two concepts in particular: the fact that “everyone did was right in their own eyes,” and the horrific consequences of such a flawed mindset.

I’ll admit, the first time I ever read this story in the Bible, I had to put the entire thing down for a couple of days in order to process. I was shooketh (yes, an actual word). At the time I was going through my first read-through of the entire bible. I sought to read the Bible, as it was, in the context it was written without inserting my worldview or life experiences into it. Being newly saved (and coming from a background of prosperity theology and new age occultism), I simply wanted to know what the Bible said, without all the noise of modern interpretations. To say that my eyes were opened would be an understatement.

Lesson Learned #1: Stop making the Bible about myself.

Try putting any of the above verses on an Instagram graphic and see how many likes you can generate. I’ll even help you out:

This hardly screams self-help, but the font is pretty, isn’t it? If it’s any consolation, I put it in the New Living Translation for that fluffy “easy read” effect. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the NLT. In fact, its my major go-to when the ESV and NKJV start reading like Japanese to me. But if we are being honest with ourselves, what we just read out of Judges, was not a pretty, Instagram worthy story. I don’t even think I’ve ever seen anyone (other than Jen Wilkin) post a graphic of this scripture on their social media. As I pray for Jesus to kill the visual of different nations receiving decomposed parts of a woman’s carcass in the mail, I ask that you reflect on any popular quotes from the book of Judges that you may have meditated on within the past month. Or are you more of a Psalm 139:14 kind of person? We don’t often quote from Judges because it’s not a pretty book. In fact, it outlines humanity at our worst. We prefer passages that won’t offend, passages that provide that “spiritual Xanax effect” we all know and love.

This is not always a bad thing. It does become problematic, however, when we do this all the time. I am guilty of it myself. Personally, I love isolating verses that speak to me and encourage me. I love the pretty fonts and scenic backgrounds to give that “inspirational quote of the day” effect. The issue here, however, is that doing this does not magically make that passage about me, even if I want it to be. Of course I do, because the world revolves around me…therefore, the Bible was written about me and I should treat the Bible as an esoteric love letter addressed to the world of me, me, me….

…..except, if these passages were really about me, then I would be willing to instagram all of what the Bible says about me, not just the parts that feel like an antidepressant and make me look and feel special. Deuteronomy 28 is an interesting chapter. The first thirteen chapters are arguably some of the most popular verses I’ve seen and heard throughout my entire life in and out of church. The problem is that many of us—pastor, teacher, student and everyone in between—have immediately inserted ourselves into these passages, without first giving regard for the Israelites that this passage was originally intended for. Moreover, they soonafter disobeyed, were punished and exiled. What actually ended up happening to them (post prosperity in the time of Joshua) was not the blessings described in 1-13, but actually the punishment and curses that were promised from verse 14 to 68. In fact, as you can see, there were a great deal more curses promised rather than blessings. Yet in spite of our rebellious and sinful nature against God that is equally deserving of what they experienced, we don’t insert ourselves there…because you know, Jesus and grace and stuff. So of course that excuses us from the bad stuff that’s too hard to stomach. Has anyone ever noticed that the only verses we often insert ourselves into are the ones that deal with prosperity, self elevation and self-discovery?

One of my favorite quotes about the Bible is that “it is not a book about self-discovery; it is a book about God-discovery.” God seeks to make Himself and his character known to us via his word. In doing that we do tend to get a reflection of who we really are, but its only in light of who God is.

If it is true that these passages were not initially addressed to us (who were not even alive at the time), then we intuitively know good and well that the Bible is not about “me.” We should be overly cautious when inserting ourselves into scripture, having zero understanding of context and its original intent. If we are not going to insert ourselves into most of Judges, then we should think twice, in other parts of the Bible. There are sections that are explicitly for all Christians. There are others that were explicitly for a specific people.

Lesson #2: Use Caution when divorcing scripture from its original context.

The Bible was written over a time span of roughly 1500 years. The last manuscript was written before any of us were even born. No single writer had a modern 2019 worldview. It was not written by a spiritual elite of thought influencers penning allegorical tales so that future baby boomers, gen-x’ers, millennials, and gen-z’ers could one day gather culturally relevant ways to wash their face, make Jesus look cool, have really high self-esteem or acquire materialism.

In fact, if you hadn’t made plans today to even boil a young goat (let alone in its mother’s milk), then its safe to say that the Bible was not intended to be a culturally relevant self-help book. The writers, and individuals written about had their own customs and culture, families, jobs, laws, daily living, and experiences according to their time…some of which we are not privy to in our modern society.

Even the epistles in what we now call the “New Testament” were written to specific audiences of that time, based on circumstances that were occurring within those communities. This does not negate the fact that there are biblical truths that withstand time and culture. However, this also does not mean we have permission to insert our own culture into the Word of God. If his word never changed then, then it doesn’t change now. What this does mean is that we realize that application of God’s word means obedience and seeking understanding of God’s original intent behind what he said.

Lesson #3: Move on from what’s familiar.

Let’s face it: we love Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 139:14.  Ephesians 2:10 is one of my personal favorites. I even featured it on a song I recently recorded.  Because of our preferences, out of habit we gloss over passages that don’t give us that “self-esteem effect” that these do. I personally love that the Bible is filled with some amazing, inspirational verses, but as noticed by my lovely collection of graphics (shout out to Stephen Altrogge), it is also full of some weird and controversial verses as well.

We prefer to cling onto what’s familiar to us. This means we are human and we love the comfort of what we know and love so well. Bible passages are no exception to this rule. I mean, who doesn’t love the epistles…especially Galatians through Philippians? I clung to them as a new believer, and have now read them upwards of a hundred times. I’ve also Instagrammed our beloved “fruit of the spirit” a time or ten: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul’s letter to the Galatians blesses my soul on any given day.

….except this. One would have to wonder if Paul was just having a really bad day…except, its in the same chapter. In my own wisdom, I‘d hardly call saying something like this “fruit.” On a surface level, this can make us concerned for Paul. Does him saying this make verse 12 less of God’s word than the fruit of the spirit in verse 22? Or does this mean we do a terrible job of staying in our comfort zone if we don’t notice all of what’s going on, rather than just the parts we agree with?

If you wrote a letter to someone right now, how would it make you feel if they simply glossed over some parts (or didn’t read them at all) and cherry-picked the parts they wanted to be most important, ignoring everything else? Why do we treat God this way? Every part of a letter is there to serve the main point. Each part is meant to serve the whole. Just as we don’t read regular novels by cherry picking and isolating chapters and calling that the main point of the book…why do we do this with scripture?

Jen Wilkin is one of my favorite authors and bible teachers. In her book Women of the Word, she drives home a point worth examining as it pertains to women and bible literacy:

“The Jack Sprat approach:

I take this approach when I engage in “picky eating” with the Word of God. I read the New Testament, or I read books with characters, plots, or topics I can easily identify with. Women, in particular, seem drawn to this approach (anyone else a little worn out with Esther, Ruth, and Proverbs 31?), but everyone fights this temptation to a certain extent.

The Problem: All scripture is God-breathed and profitable. All of it. We need a balanced diet to grow into maturity—its time to move on to the rest of the meal. Women need both male and female examples to point us to godliness. We can’t fully appreciate the sweetness of the New Testament without the savory of the Old Testament. We need historical narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, law, prophecy, and parables all showing us the character of God from different angles. And we need to see the gospel story from Genesis to Revelation. A well-rounded approach to bible study challenges us to learn the full counsel of God’s word. It helps us to build a collective understanding of how the Bible as a whole speaks of God.”

As I was growing deeper in my walk with God over the past couple years, one thing I actively sought out was relationships with other believers that I could have deep, biblical discussions with. To my disappointment, however, I found that more often than not, professing Christians knew very little of the Bible. Most people I had encountered had never even read the Bible cover to cover. Many of these same individuals regularly promoted counter-biblical values under the impression that their fragmented knowledge of scripture secures their salvation and sustains their sanctification. I won’t be the one to determine whether or not they are truly saved, but what I will say is that the insurmountable rates of lukewarm Christians seem to be attributed to one of several things: lack of depth and time spent in God’s word. Many people truly believe they can have a relationship with God outside of his written word. I would have to staunchly disagree with this notion. I spent 25 years of my life as a professing Christian who subscribed to this idea. It wasn’t until my actual conversion (after some years of walking away from the faith and exploring eastern mysticism and new age beliefs) that I learned how essential the word of God truly is. Reading the Bible thoroughly has cut into some of the deepest parts of me that nothing else could have ever penetrated. I have been sustained far more on the entirety of God’s word than fragmented scriptures could have ever done. Only the word of God can perform that deeper heart surgery we all need. We have to grow comfortable with being uncomfortable, and wrestling with all of the text.

We are not truly reading the Bible, unless it is reading us.

Many parts of the Bible may not have been written to us, but it was most definitely written for us. I’m almost positive that animal slaughtering, collecting fresh kidneys and burning carcasses is simply not my gift. They were better off without me. I am grateful, however, that I get to play a role in the bigger story, the story of someone who this book is really about.

The Bible may not be a relevant self help book, but every line does tell a relevant story. It tells the story of Someone worth mentioning and worshipping far more than ourselves. The Person who, rather than ourselves, should be inserted into every line. It speaks of someone who gave up all popularity, and said some hard things that remain difficult to swallow (see: Matthew 10:37-39) . It tells us the story of a Jesus who didn’t allow his followers to remain comfortable. It’s quite an offensive story actually.

The gospel is intended to offend…and this is why we can’t afford to insert our own agenda’s into it, unless the intent is obedience, self denial, and submission to the cross.  There are times where we will glean timeless wisdom from scripture, such as in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. There are times we will learn about the character of God gleaned from Exodus or the prophets and can contract wisdoms of God’s character and even apply it within the context of our lives. We should however, never make it a primary habit to treat the Bible as allegorical to our daily lives. It’s far more than that. The Bible tells the most scandalous story in history…how God became one of us so that we could eventually forsake ourselves in all our depravity and spend eternity with him.

In recognizing this, we truly allow the things of this world—including ourselves—to grow strangely dim, in the light of His Glory and Grace. Friends, instead of using cheaply interpreted bible verses to justify cheap biblical thought and calling that Christianity, take your eyes off yourself completely and turn your eyes upon Jesus.

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:12-17 ESV

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Hebrews 4:12-13 ESV

 

 

Written By: Siobhan Blot