The very fact that you and I can both cite biblical passages to support our radically different theologies suggests that the Bible was never intended to be a black-and-white book of instruction on proper lifestyle and relationship with God. What it does prove is that we are desperately dependent on the Holy Spirit to plant in our hearts the interpretation of God’s will that he wants for us individually.
Jesus, back in his day, debated Scripture and interpretation with his fellow theologians, often quoting the same passages they quoted, but interpreting them in fresh light of the Spirit — producing radically different conclusions. So why are we surprised when we do the same thing?
“Authority” and “God’s will” then become not a matter of “what is written,” but in “how do you read?” (Jesus even said that. How we read and understand a text is even more important than what the text literally says. Lk 10:26.) Without contact with the heart of God, without the whisper of the Spirit moving you further into love and liberty, your “interpretation” will always be limited (and often deadly).
Until spirit touches Spirit, and the heart is changed, holy words simply become a weapon of destruction.
This was highlighted recently when graphs started popping up over social media showing popular views on whether America had a moral responsibility to take in refugees. The chart was broken down by religious group, and surprise, surprise, Evangelical Christians look to be the most heartless.
The polling was conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2018, and based on public statements made by church leaders and street-level faithful in recent news, little seems to have changed. If anything, white Evangelicals seem to be even more cold, digging in on their commitment to Donald Trump and their efforts to preserve their hegemony in American society.
People who by their own self-definition claim to hold the “highest” view of Scripture appear to be the ones who seem to understand the heart of it the least.
But it’s not just about “those people.” It’s about us as well. How many of us who, in moments of weakness or crisis, turn to the Bible for direction, and instead of finding comfort, find accusation and condemnation? I think especially of so many of my LGBTQ siblings who grew up in religious homes. They still cling to God, to the hope of a loving embrace from the Eternal One, but can only hear the voices of accusers when they open the Bible. The book has become a source of death instead of life. It drives them further from God instead of drawing them to God. This is what happens when the Bible is quoted by people as a set of laws carved in stone instead of as the on-going revelation of God’s love-project: Divine-human communion. Until the words on the page are translated by the voice of Love, they are flat, dead — and even deadly.
And that’s the problem. Believing that the Bible is God’s Word is not sufficient. Reading your Bible everyday is not sufficient. They are just words preserved in leather-bound books — until our hearts are softened by contact with God’s heart, and our eyes and ears are opened to what the Spirit is whispering underneath them. That’s when they come alive, when they become “the living words of God.”
We were never intended to be led or limited by the Bible. The Bible can only properly be read by those who have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” Or as the Apostle Paul said, “those who are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God” — not those who are “led by the Book.”
Letter without Spirit leads only to death. Letter enlightened by the Spirit leads to life — for ourselves and for our neighbors.