The Word of God
In many of my posts, I may be critical of the performance and behavior of religious institutions and the leaders and followers of those institutions. This means that I disagree with the behavior or performance. It does not mean that I believe the leaders and followers intend to miss the mark. This includes the church which I attend. My goal is to follow Jesus and I believe that is what most people would say is their goal, but sometimes the methods or understanding may fall short. This blog’s purpose is to ask everyone to inspect their own lives in the light of the teachings of Jesus. Please forgive me if I bring any pain. Please consider the discussions as they apply to your life.
It seems leaders of many and perhaps most religious groups work very hard to draw our attention away from the Word of God. In fact, it often seems to be a tradition that is fiercely guarded even more by the laity than it is by the ministers and priests. I do not think it is intended to work in such a way. It just turns out that way as a result of human perceptions of how to run such organizations.
What is meant by the “Word of God”? Christians have likely heard the Word of God explained in two ways. The Word of God takes the form of Jesus from teachings such as the opening verses of the gospel of John. Christians also reference the Bible as the Word of God. As in most religions, the Word of God is found in the core teachings of that religion. The gospel of John and other parts of the Bible teach that Jesus and the Bible are closely related or even interchangeable.
You may have noticed that I capitalize “Word” in Word of God. That is to differentiate it from “words of God”. This is because I believe there is more to Jesus and the Bible than just some words written down once upon a time. I believe that when one thinks of the Bible as the words of God, there is a tendency to focus more upon those words than there is a desire to focus upon Jesus and a relationship with God. Both Jesus and the Bible are to be taken whole. I will attempt to explain what I mean.
Most of us have probably heard somebody on a news broadcast claim that something they have said was “taken out of context”. That means that if you would have heard the entire conversation or if you had been able to ask the speaker how to understand and use what was said you would find a different meaning than the meaning that seems apparent in the few words that were included in the news item.
I believe the Bible is frequently quoted out of context. When a few words are used out of context, it can be quite damaging and can even have people clamoring for war. I feel the cause of so many people turning away from churches today is the frequency with which church members and leaders take parts of the Bible out of context so that they hurt others.
How does one take the Bible or Jesus out of context? I find it easier to illustrate how to take the Bible in context. There are several places in the Bible where we are told how to use the Bible as intended by God. The most complete and concise passage for this is Matthew 22:34-40:
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
What is Jesus telling us in this response to the religious leaders of his day? Jesus says that all of life including all of the Bible is to be considered in light of what can be called the most important commandments (MIC). Love God with everything about you, then love others as you love yourself. You will find at least three components to this: God, yourself, and everyone else around you. When I succeed in practicing this teaching, I find that it works in a very pleasant and even joyous circle. Loving God leads to realizing that God loves me. I am then able to love myself so that I can in turn love others as I love myself. Not much later in Matthew, we are told one major way of loving God is by showing compassion for others which in turn reveals God’s love for us. For me, this all feeds on itself.
This of course always seems to lead to another question, “How do I love others?” Or, perhaps more important is the question, “How do I know when I am loving others?” I am far from perfect at it and nobody will be perfect, so we must strive to do it as often as we can.
There are some signs (I think of them as love triggers) that indicate whether you are loving or failing to love. The following is a list, but not necessarily a complete list. Your list may differ.
- Is anger involved? If you are acting out of anger in an irrational or self justifying manner, you are probably failing to love.
- Is lust involved? Remember, this applies to more than just sex.
- Is there a financial incentive for your behavior?
- Is there a power incentive for your behavior?
- Are you just uncomfortable with someone because they are from a different culture or because they have unfamiliar behaviors?
- Did you grow up with ideas about some particular group or person that causes you to automatically disrespect them?
- Do you find yourself for any reason failing to feel respect for another person?
Thoughts such as these trigger a sort of prayer based upon the MIC and it allows me to take some kind of action. I think of it as looking to Jesus.
Loving others does not mean you must agree with them or that you must like them. For me, the key ingredient has been respect. Each of the above points involves respect for others. Even in loving God, respect is required. I believe that God always respects all of God’s creation which includes each of us. Anytime you feel you do not respect somebody or something, there is a very good chance you are failing to love. If you think of the Jesus lessons in Matthew, if you are failing to respect other people, you are failing to respect God. The parable of the sheep and the goats, beginning in verse 31 of Matthew 25 is a reference used frequently by a friend of mine.
Please note that Jesus included that we are to love ourselves. This does not mean that we are to be self-centered. The construction of the MIC calls for a balanced life of love. Loving yourself means you must respect yourself. One must take care of oneself without ignoring compassion for others.
Returning to the phrase Word of God, in both contexts, whether it is in reference to Jesus or the Bible, I am referencing the revelation of the character of God. Who is God? What is God like? It is God’s character along with our own character that determines how we relate to God and to the rest of God’s creation. The full character of God cannot be determined with just a few words pulled from here or there in the Bible nor can it be taken from just one story about Jesus. Rather, it is better understood by considering more of the whole Bible or the life of Jesus. I believe the closest a short section of the Bible comes to revealing the full character of God is in Matthew 22:36-40, yet that also needs greater study to make it useful.
Christians should have it easier than any other religion. They can look at a person who really existed, Jesus, and find one statement (the MIC) from him that tells us just where to start and just where to go to find our way. Yet, we find ways to complicate it, frequently to such an extent, that Jesus is no longer seen or heard. Instead, Jesus is treated more like Santa Claus, somebody who simply delivers something for us, then is on his way, not to be taken seriously, used only for stories and as a quick reference to our piety.
The Word of God is that which directs us to God, providing examples, and assisting us in our relationships with God and God’s creation. The Bible and Jesus provide these.
Next time, I will take a look at excuses and other impediments that I feel must be considered in our quest for God.