Friday, February 24, 2012

Using Scripture in Ways that Aren't Helpful

Ah, the Bible. A useful tool for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness, right? Just don't assume it should always make you feel better.

The other morning a bird flew right into our bay window. My wife commented that the window must be too clean and that the commercials are correct. My two young girls, 10 and 5, both started crying. We looked as the bird just dropped to the ground and sat there.

Its neck was a little to the left. Anything could have caused that, right? Just because it wasn't moving didn't mean anything. It was right before we were leaving for school, so I didn't want them leaving upset. So I was trying to think of a soothing scripture to share. So I said, "You know that God saw that too, right?"

My 10 year old looked at me with tear-filled eyes and didn't say anything. She had to wonder what kind of robot monster I was to implicate God in the death of this bird. Thus I figured out another way we use scripture in unhelpful ways.

1. Implicating God

While what I said was technically true, I can't help but wonder if I unwittingly caused my girl to ask, for the first time why bad things happen and God does nothing. God saw it too? Ok, it's true that a bird does not fall from the sky without God knowing it. And while I believe that God may have chuckled at one of His birds doing such a stupid thing, that was probably not the verse to use with my children.

Just because it's true doesn't make it helpful. Here's the rest of my list for using Bible verses in ways that won't help anyone.

2. God has good plans for you.

We normally quote Jeremiah 29:11 here, stating that God promises good plans and great hope. It looks great on a graduation card, but we also use it when someone is at the lowest point in their life. I'm sorry you lost your job on the day your mom died. Just keep in mind that God has a bright future for you. Did you see this letter from the IRS in your mail?

3. God ended their suffering.

This one is largely a timing issue. We'll hear news of someone losing someone close to them. Because we're uncomfortable with tears and pain, we remind them that at least God didn't let them suffer. We'll use verses from Revelation 21 that talk about there being no pain or suffering in Heaven. What we don't mention is the flip side of this crusty coin that says, Of course, your suffering is only beginning.

4. Using God's will as an out

Paul said it first in Acts 18. He was being asked to stay longer. He declined but then offered that he would return, 'if it was God's will.' I imagine this has been used to the point now that we hear it and assume something bad is going to happen.

I'll see you tomorrow.
~If it's God's will.
Do you know something that I don't?

We also use this as a great stall tactic or when we want to pass the blame on to God when our friends do not get their way. I guess it wasn't God's will for me to encourage you and go out for coffee. It's kind of hard to argue against God's will. But it also makes it a verse that does nothing to make us feel better.

There's lots of ways to use Bible verses in ways that aren't helpful. I'm sure I missed some. What ways have you seen or (mis)used scripture?

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