This post just kind of popped up. I usually plan them somewhat in advance, but I’m flying on impulse here. Yes, it’s likely to land me in trouble.
The Bible holds immeasurable value in many Christian circles (worry not, I’m not gonna pick on that). It’s usually 4th in line of authority – which runs God (the Father) at the top, Jesus at a very close 2nd, the Holy Spirit a somewhat distant third… and then the Scriptures. For some people the Scripture holds the same weight as God himself, they’re considered synonymous.
Because it is so central, what the Bile says is above any of our ideas, philosophies or theologies – meaning we are often “stuck” with certain ideas because, well, its in the Bible so its off limits to tampering with. It’s settled – that’s that. And I appreciate that devotion, that willingness to submit and lay down whatever notions you have to that authority, even if it hurts.
But you can’t escape the fact that we, today, really don’t understand the Bible very well. And I won’t blame it on a lack of piety, as many preachers do. I think we don’t understand the Scriptures well mostly because our times and our culture are so vastly different from the ancient world.
For instance – I’ve long not liked this verse from Romans 12:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
In my deepest days of doubt one notion kept me hanging onto the way of Jesus – the love of other people, enemies even, without any condition or secret plot to actually change them. So this verse, actually a reference to Proverbs 25, violated this idea to me. The verse started off well – telling you to feed enemies, but I truly never agreed that we were to do at least partly because it would show them how evil and ridiculous they are being.
I thought we were supposed to simply love, and not try for outcomes of any kind.
Well, as it turns out, years after I secretly resented this verse, I heard a very different take on it. In Old Testament times, people were nomadic and as such, needed to transfer fire from place to place. As someone who can primitively start a fire (although a knife and string help me create my tools) I know how freaking long it can take to start a fire from scratch. Therefore the people of that day carried coals on their head from place to place to save them the trouble.
So, through giving them food or water, we are not showing our enemies for how bad they are. No, in fact, we are helping them survive. If you heaped coals on their head in those days, you were passing on survival. That makes so much more sense with what Jesus (and Paul) taught.
The lesson for me is don’t get too comfortable in my understanding. And in fact, maybe look into what I think the Scriptures are saying – because I didn’t live thousands of years ago in the Middle East. So I can’t hold on too tightly.
(Another quick example: at his arrest Jesus puts the ear back on the soldier who has it cut off by a disciple’s sword. We see that act as showing his healing supernatural powers, though having a missing appendage in those days disqualified you from worship in the Temple. So that act was far more than a simple miracle).
Where does the Scripture stand in your mind? Is it 4th in line? Have you encountered any stories like mine where your understanding of it was flipped around?