catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 14 :: 2004.09.10 — 2004.09.23


Soaking in Scripture

We’ve all heard the old axiom “You are what you eat.” I submit a parallel axiom is also true: “You are what you read.”

I do not mean this in a fearful sense, which I often hear, that to foray into the Harry Potter or Left Behind series or into the writings of Ann Coulter or Michael Moore will damage or twist you. As Christians, we can be confident to read anything and examine it in light of our faith. What I mean is that whatever we have a steady diet of reading—novels, political opinion, the sports page, the Bible—will affect our underlying assumptions about life.

Over the past year or so I turned into something of a political junkie. For a few months I was checking Yahoo’s presidential election links every few hours for the latest analysis, opinion, poll, or speculation. I read most every writer and newspaper, from the hysterical to the rational, from the left and the right, from Christian and secular sources. I wrote letters to Newsweek; I reviewed political books for the local library. And if there was one basic assumption that every writer had, it was that this upcoming election was one of the most important in history, that the moral direction of our country was at stake. It was something I began to unconsciously accept—both sides were in such a fury, were so sure that their opponents were morally inferior.

But in April of this year, I started a new reading habit. Together with others from my church, we started reading one chapter of the New Testament each day. At first, I paid attention to the specific events and topics in each chapter, taking each day’s reading separately. But over time I’ve come to see some underlying currents in the Scriptures that are changing the way I view things. Unlike most devotionals, sermons, and Christian books, which usually portion up the Bible into topics that we find interesting, the habit of daily reading emphasizes certain messages that God seems to think are important.

In contrast to the political columnists, my time with the apostle Paul repeatedly called me toward a spirit of humility. “You are so proud … you boast … you are convinced you are a guide … you think you can instruct,” he reprimands in Romans chapter 2. “Be careful not to brag … don’t think highly of yourself … don’t try to act important … don’t condemn each other … why do you look down [on others]?” he says in chapters 11, 12, and 14. Paul tells us not to trust in our own human wisdom and cleverness in 1 Corinthians 1 and 3, warns against arrogance and pride and “anyone who claims to know all the answers” in chapters 4, 5, and 8, and in chapter 10 says to be very careful “if you think you are standing strong.” In chapter 13 he asks rhetorically: “If I … knew everything about everything but didn’t love others, what good would I be?”

I don’t think Paul’s aim here is to make the Christians into shoulder-shrugging relativists, to keep them from holding an opinion or being active in their world. I think he’s making sure that no one tries to solve the world’s problems with the world’s means. “Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?” Paul asks when speaking to Christians who sue in secular courts. Talk about your mind-bender. At a time when the government was savagely executing Christians, he says, “Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there.” To those who are enslaved and beaten he says, “Don’t let that worry you.” His point seems to be that as Christians we must give up all our rights to fair treatment, justice and freedom. It’s not that we go out of the way to get stepped on (he does tell slaves, “if you get a chance to be free, take it”), but all our personal liberties must come second to spreading the love of Christ. Love “is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

Paul’s vision of the church, of how we should live as followers of Christ, stands in stark contrast to the basic assumptions of the political debate. His repetitive claims of the church as God’s instrument in the world, the hands and feet of Christ, allowed me to see that the political choice America makes in November cannot limit—nor unleash—the love of God.

I do not mean to imply that Christians should stay out of politics. We must always encourage our leaders to dispense justice fairly, to offer protection equally, and fulfill their duties morally. But the real question is this: Where is our hope for the world? Is our hope in a political party, policy, or candidate? Or is our hope in a church that is fulfilling its Christ-likeness, in believers who are becoming more loving, more sacrificial, more transformed in spirit?

My political immersion was not the first time I have become swept up in the world’s way of thinking. There is false hope most everywhere. Read enough movie commentary and you’ll find the suggestion that if we just opened ourselves up to the right films, the world would become a more loving place. Read about raising children and you’ll find the assumption that correct parenting would lead to utopia. Cooking enthusiasts boast about the bonding power of food; sports fans find meaning in teamwork and competition; business folk talk about quality and service. These are all good things, and can be of great encouragement to our Christian faith, but it’s easy for me to get swept away in their false mythos of hope.

These days, I find myself with a much clearer mind. Under the rhythmical challenge of the Bible, it has been pretty much impossible to maintain a spirit of self-satisfaction. It has become hard to believe in the world’s answers. The Bible presents a vision of life so radical, so counterintuitive, that it destroys false hopes and lures us into God’s ways of thinking.

For the first time I have a desperate hunger to get on the same page with God, to daily reorient myself to His concerns. The more I’ve become conscious of whose words I choose to immerse myself in, the more it’s become a joy to soak in Scripture. After all, we are what we read.

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