God’s Word is Not a Weapon – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas Bartoli

John 5:30-47

On November 8, 1952 C.S. Lewis responded by letter to a Mrs. Johnson, who had asked him, “Is the Bible Infallible?” Here is what he wrote:

“It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God. The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers will bring us to Him. When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is… Myth (… specially chosen by God… to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer. But we must not use the Bible… as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context…) can be taken for use as weapons.”

That quote from C.S. Lewis reminded me of a scene from the 2004 movie, Saved! It’s a movie about a girl named Mary attending a Christian high school, and when she becomes pregnant, she finds herself ostracized and demonized, as all of her former friends turn on her.

In one particular scene Hillary Faye, the most popular girl at school, and her two friends confront Mary in a combination intervention and exorcism. At one point, after Mary points out their hypocrisy, Hilary Faye shoves Mary yelling, “Oh my God, you’re making accusations as we’re trying to save your soul? Mary, turn away from Satan. Jesus… he loves you.”

“You don’t know the first thing about love,” Mary yells back, as she turns around to leave.

Then, outraged, Hilary Faye hurls the bible she had been holding, hitting Mary in the back with it, and says “I am filled with Christ’s love! You’re just jealous of my success in the Lord.”

Mary, shocked, picks up the bible and, holding it up in front of Hilary Faye, shouts “This is not a weapon, you idiot.”

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,” Jesus says, “and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” As is often the case, Jesus’ words for the religious authorities of his day may and probably should be fruitfully applied to us, today. The bible, sadly, has been used to justify slavery and racism, and to promote intolerance and hatred of those people not identifying as heterosexual or not identifying with the gender assigned at their birth. Romans 13 was used by pastors in Hitler’s Germany, reminding worshippers of the importance of obeying state authority, and justifying the Nazi seizure of power and their policies.

But those are just some of the worst examples. We use the bible as a weapon whenever we insist on our own interpretation or meaning-making, even if another person’s experience of the text or teaching, different than ours, bears the fruit of Christ’s Love in their heart. 

The question of bible interpretation and criticism obviously plays a large role in any theological course of study. I remember during the coursework for my Master of Divinity program we often spoke of the lenses through which the bible could be viewed and interpreted, for example, a feminist lens or a mystical lens. One common feature I noticed about all these critical lenses is they relied on a general hermeneutic of suspicion, a stance challenging whatever meaning might initially be gleaned from a reading of the text in question.

It seems to me that even if this hermeneutic of suspicion is applied with the best of intentions, it often does violence, small or great, to the core Gospel message. Once we step away from the message of God’s Kingdom, that it is so very near, that dying with Jesus and rising with Christ into the Kingdom is our calling, that we must love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and that we must love our neighbors as our very selves…. once we let our hearts stray from that truth, then using the bible as a weapon becomes possible and even likely.

Perhaps this is what C.S. Lewis was referring to when he said that when sorting out a particular bible passage, whether to decide on its status as Myth or history, or for any reason, the motivation for discernment should be the fruit to be found in our spiritual lives, and not for mere controversy or curiosity. And if it’s true that spiritual fruit be at the heart of our discernment, then  we should practice a hermeneutics of trust, trusting that Christ, not the Bible, is the true word of God, and through that trust discern what meaning the Bible might hold about Christ manifesting in and through us as God’s Love.

In fact, why not take it a step further. We can adopt a hermeneutics of trust not just for the bible, but for the Word of God present in all creation. If we put all our trust in God, surrendering our suspicion in each and every moment, viewing the world through a lens of that trust, then we will see the Peace and Joy of Christ everywhere, starting within ourselves. And then, maybe, the world will be left will no weapons at all.

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