Welcome to Bible Week at Reflected Riddles! As cheesy as the name sounds, this week is dedicated to what will hopefully be some authentic, raw conversation about what the Bible is – and isn’t. How we read and approach the Bible has the ability to alter nearly everything about our faith and how we connect with God, so this is a pretty important topic and is worth some good discussion. So here we go!
When I started following Jesus back in the late 90s, one of the hip Christian-ese sayings going around was that the word “Bible” was an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” Back then, I thought it was so cool and clever. Now, fifteen years later, it’s probably the worst way I can imagine to describe the Bible.
Last week, the question was posed on Facebook: “If you had to describe the Bible in four words, which four words would you use?”. Perusing the answers, it appeared that many (if not most) of them played off of this acronym somehow… whether it was folks who couldn’t count and put all five words, or folks who followed the rules and shortened it to “instructions before leaving earth.” Others said something about the Bible being an “owner’s manual” or a “guidebook.” All in all, the overwhelming response pointed to this idea that the Bible is an instruction book to use before we get to heaven.
To be honest, the fact that so many people approach the Bible in that manner makes me a little sad. Primarily for two reasons: 1) because the Bible is so much deeper and richer and truer than a set of instructions, and 2) because it focuses us on the world after we die instead of the world we’re in now.
Insert Peg L Into Base C
Whenever I hear someone refer to the Bible as an instruction manual, I think, “Seriously? Have you read it lately?” I mean, really – when was the last time you read an instruction manual that contained erotic poetry? Stories of a warrior thrusting a dagger through the fat belly of a tyrant king? Stories of insurrection and subversion against an evil empire?
The first problem is that instruction manuals are so… dry. Drab. Boring. Rob Bell’s words in Velvet Elvis on this subject resonate with me:
And while I’m at it, let’s make a group decision to drop once and for all the Bible-as-owner’s-manual metaphor. It’s terrible. It really is. When was the last time you read the owner’s manual for your toaster? Do you find it remotely inspiring or meaningful? You only refer to it when something’s wrong with your toaster. You use it to fix the problem, and then you put it away. We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God.
But it’s not just that instruction books or owner’s manuals are dry and boring. I think this is a lousy way to describe and approach the Bible for a couple other reasons as well – first and foremost, that the Bible was never intended to be a set of instructions. If it was, then we ought to be calling out bears from the forest to maul teenagers. Or going around demanding bread and oil from starving widows. Or laying on our side by a flaming pile of excrement as an object lesson to disobedient people.
The second reason I dislike the analogy is that instructions are always focused on one singular thing: a finished product. Instructions presume that if you follow them step-by-step, you will have a finished and completed product after the last instruction has been fulfilled.
I cannot think of a worse way to describe how our relationship with God ebbs and flows. Maturity in Christ does not come courtesy of a formula or a step-by-step anything. There’s no checklist to run down that makes you a better or deeper Christian (despite the fact that many of us have attempted to make that be true). Life on journey with God is messy. It’s all over the map. Let’s not pretend it can be explained through a set of IKEA instructions like a TV stand.
I’m Just Passin’ Through
I once heard a preacher expounding on the idea that we don’t “belong” here on earth – that our real home is in heaven. He was explaining that, given that fact, it really is silly to care about things in this world. In fact, he went on to say, caring about things here earth was just like going to an airport to catch a flight, and deciding to spend a bunch of time and money doing interior design and decoration work in the airport terminal. Soon, we will be gone from here – we’ll leave the airport behind and catch a flight to our real destination; why care, then, about our time on earth?
That’s the essence of the second part of that B.I.B.L.E. acronym as well: “before leaving earth”. Life here is nothing but a prelude to the real life upstairs. And while our 80 years or so, give or take, is certainly a blip on the radar compared to, oh, eternity, our time here is of infinitely more importance than many people seem to believe. This world may not be our home, but the second we adopt an “I’m just passin’ through” mentality and focus on the future, we lose much of our ability to join God in his present redemptive work.
And besides, even if the (horrible) analogy were true that this world is nothing but an airport terminal, what would be so bad about leaving the place a little bit better than you found it… for those coming after you? Should no one repair and upkeep airport terminals? Should nobody clean the restrooms? Should there be no art hanging on the walls, simply because the people catching flights are there only temporarily?
Who Reads the Instructions, Anyway?
And so we begin our week of discussions by challenging one of the most prevalent approaches to Scripture. If you read the Bible as an instruction book, an owner’s manual, or a guidebook, I suspect that at some point or another you’ll be confused, disappointed, and surprised. When it comes to the power of this book, we’ve got to understand: many stories in the Bible are instructional – but that is far different from them being instructions.
Your turn! What do you think of the “Bible as instruction manual” metaphor? Does approaching Scripture in that way provide any positives? Are there other reasons you don’t like the comparison?