This photo popped up recently in my News Feed. At first, before reading the caption, I honestly thought it was something from a Harry Potter novel. It's kinda...creepy.
Then I looked at it closer and was confused.
Now, after giving it some thought, I'm...annoyed!
I respect and value the Bible. I’ve been an avid student and teacher for more than 40 years. Please know that I am not discounting the reality of comfort, encouragement and inspiration available to us from the Scriptures; I experience those benefits as well.
I choose to believe the person who created and posted the photo had the best of intentions, but after careful consideration, I've decided: this image bugs me. (And that's not even taking into consideration the grammatical issues of improper capitalization!) At best, it's little more than trite simplification of the Bible; at worst, we have an exaggerated personification. Either way, it's a blatant misrepresentation.
“Only The Word of God...”
Obviously, I’m over thinking this (Who me?), but as we know, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And this one speak volumes. Unfortunately—in my humble (yet experienced) opinion—it communicates a faulty message!
FIRST, based solely on the caption, this depiction does what Fundamentalism has done for year: elevates the Bible to a detrimental place of prominence and preeminence. It feeds the idea that the only way to experience God is through the pages of a book! It limits God to what we read. (And by extension, our understanding/interpretation of what we read.)
In other words, God is not personal; God is leather-bound and typeset.
I know God because I’ve read The Book.
I obey God by obeying The Book.
I love God because I love The Book.
No wonder it's difficult to discuss (i.e., question, oppose, dispute) beliefs with those who hold this stringent view of the Bible. To disagree with their "interpretation" is analogous to challenging God. It's rebelling against the Authority of God, as contained in...The Book.
"God said it, I believe it, that settles it!"
But God is not The Book, and vice versa. If we try to make it a "biography" that explains God, or defines God, we will have some uncomfortable images (i.e., Old Testament stories) to confront...and justify! This lofty notion is a disservice to the Bible and its purpose, and it limits our sensitivity to and understanding of God beyond what we find in The Book. (e.g., God can't be in nature, so there's no need for conservation. God is not in other people, so there's no need for respect.)
Regardless of our views on the “inspiration” of Scripture, I think we must acknowledge the Bible is a collection of stories about people’s experiences of God. It's their account of events, based on their understanding of God and how God operates. It's not about the accuracy of the event, but an attempt to explain the events in harmony with their perception of God. Often, it's simply cause and effect: good things happened because God was pleased; bad things happened because God was angry. Therefore, if we want to prevent bad things, we must do good. If bad things happen, then we know the reason.
That perspective is still evident today in most Fundamentalist theology, but I personally find it unsettling. (I also don't think the Bible was intended to be a guidebook on science, history, human sexuality, family relationships, or government...but those are topics for later.)
My SECOND problem with this picture is it presents and promotes an impersonal faith that's detached from human interaction. We don’t have a backstory for the young woman being enfolded by The Book. Maybe she’s hurting, or having doubts, disillusioned, going through a difficult time, or exhausted. We have to assume she desired comfort, support, encouragement.
She needed a hug.
And this picture seems to say that the "only" avenue available to her is in the page of a giant (I assume) Bible.
Is this true?
Can NO ONE think of any other possible way to get a simple hug when we're in pain or confused?
Maybe something involving, oh...I dunno...another person?
To me, this picture speaks to (and perpetuates) a lonely existence. The idea of community and connection is discounted...actually, ignored...in favor of a "love affair" with the page of a book (or The Book).
We are lone wolves in our walk of faith.
We don't need anyone else.
It's us and God.
Moreover, when The Book is elevated to the unhealthy stature I described earlier, it takes away individual responsibility of personal involvement or emotional investment in the lives of others.
Know someone who’s struggling with loneliness? Give ‘em...The Book.
A friend who’s hurt, confused or having problems? Tell ‘em what chapter to read in...The Book.
A sick person? Quote 'em a "promise" from...The Book.
Someone with a different opinion? Prove 'em wrong with cut-and-paste verses from...The Book.
People who are hungry or homeless? Show them why it's their own fault with...The Book.
But when I read the Bible (i.e., The Book), I don't "hear" this message. In fact, from what I read, there’s only ONE complete expression of God, and it’s not a printed, red-letter edition. It’s a person! Jesus is The Word of God. (Just in case you need a Bible verse for that, check out John 1:1-4)
And in The Book, there's a major emphasis on our connection to one another. We are told to love one another, encourage one another, accept one another, be kind to one another, be at peace with one another, forgive one another...on and on. (All these exhortations are in The Book, so you can do a quick search to find the actual verses.)
Yes, read the Bible.
Study it, memorize it, meditate on it, discuss it, learn from it.
But in the end, we are not called to be known as readers (or quoters) of a book. Our calling is to be disciples (i.e., “learners”) of Jesus, The True Word of God. A Person is our example. We are to be known for our emulation of His love, grace and compassion to hurting people around us.
We are God's arms.
We are God’s hugs!