Across the Pastor’s Desk: Bible study needs a community

Published 8:00 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

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Across the Pastor’s Desk by Don Rose

There is a billboard on the interstate on the north side of the city that asks the question, “Who decides right and wrong?”

Don Rose

There is no response printed, but the billboard has a picture of a Bible following the question, suggesting that the Bible is the arbiter of peoples’ behavior. Though satisfying and appealing to many, the response is much too simplistic to be of value.

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It is clear that the Bible has many things to say on many topics, but it also must be noted that it often has conflicting advice about how to deal with similar circumstances. The Old Testament includes “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” certainly intended to keep retribution for harm to a minimum, but at the same time Jesus said, “love your enemy and if anyone slaps you on the cheek, turn the other also.”

Which — taken by itself — should direct human behavior? Persons have used the Bible to support slavery on the one hand and to seek its abolishment on the other. Is one right and one wrong? Both are two examples of the use and misuse of scripture.

In addition the Bible does not address any number of the issues confronting modern humanity. Though its message regarding faith and forgiveness and relationship with God is timeless, material related to daily life is rooted in the Middle East of millennia ago.

From its very beginning the Bible was not seen to be a book of answers to the questions of daily life, but rather a witness to people’s faith and their understanding from their perspective of God’s activity in their lives. The Bible has always needed interpretation as people struggle to apply their faith in challenging as well as peaceful times.

C.S. Lewis said that societies and cultures throughout the ages have dealt with codes of behavior and matters of right and wrong quite effectively and with great similarity. He said that the Bible has a different purpose and that was to witness to faith, to God’s love for God’s children and creation. The people of God have the gift of forgiveness to proclaim to the world, not a new list of rules of behavior.

The Bible can do many things and can be read privately for one’s own devotions. Bible study and the understanding of it takes a community. Find such a community and be a part of it and experience the growth that comes from a fuller and deeper understanding of God’s word and God’s promise.

Don Rose is pastor at Mansfield and United Lutheran churches.