W. C. Fields, the famous comedian and actor who spun such punch lines as “I once spent a year in Philadelphia, I think it was on a Sunday” and “I certainly do not drink all the time; I have to sleep, you know,” was a confirmed atheist. When he finally lay dying (of cirrhosis of the liver) in 1946, a nurse walked into his sanitarium room one day and caught him propped up in bed reading the Bible. She was shocked.
“What in the world are you doing, Mr. Fields?!” she exclaimed.
Ever the wise guy, he cracked his trademark grin and muttered, “Looking for a loophole.”
I have to admit that once in a while I’m guilty of the same mindset when I read the Bible. Some of the verses aren’t on my favorites list at all. I squirm at what they say and wonder if maybe the translation was askew, or the writer was exaggerating his point just to be dramatic. Here are some examples:
- Matthew 18:21-22—“Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (or in some versions, “seventy times seven”)…. Well, isn’t that a little over the top? Some people are just chronic offenders, and to keep forgiving them would only encourage their misbehavior.
- “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17)…. Hey, coveting is what keeps the economy humming, don’t you know? People wouldn’t buy nearly as much in the marketplace if they didn’t want what the other person has. The GDP would go into a skid, sales tax revenues would plummet….
- “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people” (Exodus 22:28, and quoted by Paul during one of his high-stakes trials)…. Yeah, but the current President is in a whole different league, isn’t he?
- “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5)…. Evident to all? All? Nice guys finish last, you know.
- When I still had kids at home, there were days I squinted sideways at Ephesians 6:4, which says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” … But what if one of them is truly exasperating?I’m not Andy Griffith, or even Jim Bob Duggar.
- Perhaps most troubling: “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15)…. That wouldn’t pass the Eighth Amendment, which bans “cruel and unusual punishments,” would it?
The Scriptures were not made to keep us always comfortable in our present state. God’s Book doesn’t mind stepping on toes. If we are committed to following its teachings, recognizing its authority, then we are going to be unhappy sometimes. We’re not going to like what it asks us to do (or refrain from doing).
I know more than a few Christians who balk at obeying what the Bible clearly says about not taking a fellow Christian to court (see 1 Corinthians 6). Others in our day are busily looking for loopholes around the Scripture’s statements on homosexuality (not just in Leviticus 18, but half a dozen other places as well, in the New Testament as well as the Old). Surely we don’t have to take these at face value, given the current cultural climate, do we?
The Bible’s biggest speed bumps are its flat-out statements about one and only way to God, whether spoken by Jesus himself (see John 14:6) or his disciples (see Acts 4:12). Why did they have to be so exclusionary? Talk about politically incorrect. Can’t all the religions “just get along”?
But we don’t get the option of picking and choosing which verses we like and which ones we can dodge. The Book stands tall and immoveable, calling us to a higher life. Sometimes it pinches our preferences. But in the end, it is a beacon of light in a dark and stormy world. We ignore it at our peril.