There are times when we (and I mean we, I include myself in this) use Christian terms, concepts and Scriptures as a spiritual sticking plaster on a very big wound. There are times when we over-simplify complicated issues, slap a verse on it from a topical index in our minds, and think we have solved the problem.
Scripture is a wonderful thing. I love to read the Bible and I love to see how it’s words apply to my life. But I also recognise and need to recognise that not everything in life is directly addressed by the Bible, and I need to combat the tendency to spout off a verse and expect myself (or someone else) to be able to deal with my problem from then on.
For example, person A goes to person B and says, I have been feeling afraid, anxious lately and I don’t know what to do. Person B then says:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
Does that help person A? Firstly, I would say that here the “fear” is fear of God, rather than of manmade terrors or the product of a faulty brain. Secondly, how is that supposed to help person A? Being told, You shouldn’t be afraid, doesn’t do anything to actually address that fear and work toward conquering it. It sounds more like condemnation than anything else. It also shows that person B, whether deliberately or not, doesn’t care to take the time to find out why person A is afraid, what his situation is and certainly doesn’t offer to help in practical terms.
When I was younger (both technically and in the faith) I spent a lot of time debating American hyper-conservatives (OK, fundamentalists) online in chatrooms. It is something I now feel God has laid on me not to do, but at the time I enjoyed it. One of the side-effects of those debates is a tendency to cherrypick verses and apply them out of context, something that I try to guard against. I grew into the habit of saying “John 11:4? That fits X problem therefore I will quote it whenever anyone mentions they have X problem!” The trouble is that often, that verse didn’t really apply to the situation I was encountering. It was like quoting Jesus saying “I will give you rest” to someone suffering from insomnia – it didn’t take account of the context of the verse. The other trouble is that I started to use these verses instead of engaging with the person. Just throw a verse at them and that is my job done. Life isn’t like that, and I should have had the courtesy – and the love – to become more involved. I used the Bible in those days as a barrier between me and others and it is something I have tried hard to stop doing.
Which is my point, really. I and others have a tendency to use the Bible as a remedy – when sometimes the remedy is less obvious. I do find the Bible very helpful, particularly the Psalms, when I am depressed for instance. But I also find having someone I can see to talk to and to help guide my thoughts and just to love me as helpful.
In the end, the Gospel may be written in the Book, but we are the bearers of Good News, we are the ones who present the love of Christ to the world, we are the ones who, in the words of St Theresa:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.”
I need to stop thinking that throwing around Bible verses can solve a problem. The bible is indeed the Word of God and faith comes through hearing that – but the Bible does not say that it is sufficient to cure all problems that we have, and it certainly never says that it is a substitute for human contact; for talk, for empathy, for love.
So my plea to anyone who reads this, and my reminder to me, is to treat those who tell me they have a problem, whatever that problem may be, as needing a personal response, not just a carelessly applied Bible verse, however wonderful that verse may be. A person in need needs real engagement, and more than a generic verse for their issue.
I love the Bible, but I need to love human beings, and not view them as problems in an index.