Use of the Bible

I have to confess something, get it off my chest, after all they say confession is good for the soul.  The thing is that whilst not being particularly academic and having a short attention span for the works of Aquinas and Schillebeeckx and the like I did OK in my exams whilst I was training for ordination.  That is apart from one particular paper with the intriguing title ‘Use of the Bible’.  I remember a question on readings that you could use for a Harvest Festival – I think you had to have a rationale for your choice, that kind of thing.  Anyway, when it came time for the results to be published I was summoned to the Principal’s office.  Fr Benedict Green CR was Principal at that time, a slightly off putting though terrifically kind person who had little in the way of small talk.  My capacity only for small talk left him normally underwhelmed.

Open Bible

So I knocked on the door and entered his study.  There he was in his cassock and grey scapular.  It was about the ‘Use of the Bible’ exam.  To cut a long story short I had escaped failing it by half a percent!  Not that it stood in the way of ordination and nor has it stood in the way of so many years of putting services together and choosing suitable readings, including for Harvest Festivals!  But I did leave his room feeling slightly told off, that I didn’t really know how to use the Bible.

It has been a shocking two weeks.  The death of George Floyd in Minnesota has shocked the world but also highlighted what our BAME sisters and brothers have known all the time, that insidious racism is never far away.  It is systemic, institutionalised, a poison in our societies and a scandal of monumental proportions.  The peaceful response in the States and around the world has been justified (the looting and wanton destruction of property is another matter, though it shows the depth of anger that this has provoked and unleashed).

And in that divisive, violent situation the President of the USA takes a walk from the White House, his route being cleared by more divisive and violent action as protesters are cleared from his path with the use of tear gas and he stands outside St John’s Episcopal Church (Anglican Church) holding a copy of the Bible aloft.  It was the most terrible image I think I have ever seen of the use, the misuse, of the Bible.

I am not the first to say that if, rather than holding it, he had the courage to open it he would have read there the truth that would challenge his every action.

What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6.8)

The Bible is not a weapon to be held in the way he did, not a talisman to ward off evil, it is God’s word to us, so that, in the words of the Prayer Book Collect for Advent 2

‘we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life’

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is equally clear

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4.12)

But it isn’t just President Trump who is at fault.  I ‘use’ the Bible to my own ends, grabbing verses here and there, to prove MY point.  Others grab texts to prove THEIR point.  We weaponise the word of God, we misuse the Bible in so many ways.  We have used it to justify the very slavery whose effect is continuing to be felt by those who hate people of colour and by those people of colour who still feel the yoke of oppression on their necks.  We have used the Bible to justify homophobia, to keep women ‘in their place’, to justify the rape of creation, or fuel antisemitism.

Trinity Sunday is when we read scripture to discover something of the true nature of God, we use the Bible to shed light on the glorious mystery of the God we have come to know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.  May we do that in a life-giving way, for as Paul writes to Timothy

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3.16-17)

I hope I never see another human being treated in the way George Floyd was, I hope I never see the Bible used as President Trump used it.


This is the prayer I have written in response to #BlackLivesMatter

God of all,
who loves each of us for who we are,
to whom each life matters,
who counts the hairs on our head
who knows when a sparrow falls;
teach us to love as you love
to respect, to honour, to care
and to protect
each of our sisters and brothers,
that your embracing,
including kingdom
may come now
and your love be known
by all, always.

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