I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.
This is my very first Bible I was given, before I could even read. It has
pictures, and I remember one Sabbath while the preacher was preaching, I was studying a particular picture of Jesus on the cross, and gave my heart to Jesus.
I was taught that my Bible was holy, and not to set it on the ground or put another book or anything else on top of it. You may say it became my “flag” of Christianity. We don’t let the flag touch the ground and we handle it very carefully. Yet a flag is only symbolic of a country. It is not the country. Likewise the actual materials my Bible are made of are not holy materials. The message is holy. The ink and paper are not.
One day, when I was about 6, I showed my Bible to a neighbor who was eating a hot dog outside. I let him handle my Bible not realizing he had mustard on his hands. I was horrified when he accidentally smeared mustard on my holy Bible! You can still see the mustard on the opening page. I yelled at him and berated him for messing up my holy Bible! I still remember the sad look on his face when he told me he was sorry, and a little stunned at how upset I was.
But was I being a little Pharisaical? Was I dramatizing the impression the mustard made on the paper, instead of realizing the impression on the paper was meaningless? What was really important, was the impression the picture and story of Jesus made on my heart. Unless the words make my heart holy, a pristine Bible is pretty useless.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Matthew 23:25-26 NLT
I think I missed the whole point of what Jesus was all about, when I hurt my friend’s feelings by yelling at him, because he accidentally smeared mustard on the “holy” papers of my Bible. Looking back I am quite sure now that Jesus cared more about my friend’s heart and feelings than He did the paper in Bible.
I realize now that I am just making an idol out of the Bible when I make sure nothing is stacked on top of it, but yet in real life I put “things” before Jesus. The words of the Bible have made it from the scrolls to books to electronic apps. Some people don’t think of electronic Bible apps as “real” Bibles. Yet I wonder if when Gutenberg’s press came out if people did not consider the “real” Bibles to still be on scrolls.
I think we are making idols out of scrolls, hard copy Bibles and apps, unless we realize and appreciate the Bible enough to impress it upon our hearts and do what it actually says. It doesn’t do any good for me to take the flag down out of the rain, and fold it carefully if I still turn around and betray my country. Likewise it doesn’t do any good for me to make sure no books are put stacked on top of my Bible if I am still putting things before Jesus in real life.
I don’t want to make a useless idol out of ink and paper. I want God’s Word to be alive and well in my heart.
You can study this week’s SS lesson here.
Merry Christmas to you!
Excellent points and great conversation. Yes, we can and do make idols of about anything, even holy objects. I have seen people make idols from statues of holy people, icons, communion wafers, holy water, etc. Whenever we attribute anything to these particular objects that is owed only to God we are making an idol of them. This is why I like to think of the Christian faith as an incarnational/sacramental faith. The things themselves are not holy, but they in a sense become a conduit to the holiness of God. It is not the printed bible in gilded leather that is holy, it is the message, the story, and ultimately the God who I come to know through my engaging of the bible that is a holy encounter. Thanks for the great post.