Problems With Proof-Texting

7 Nov

The other day someone sent me a scripture. The words were beautiful and fitting to a situation I was reflecting on and I greatly appreciated the person’s wisdom and thoughtfulness in sending them to me. And I will pray over these particular words. But I couldn’t initially without first pulling out my bible to see where specifically in the text this quote fell.

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The words were Jeremiah 6:16 and they read: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” I had been talking about when we’re at various cross roads in our lives and this passage definitely reflects that theme. Yet what follows next in the text is Israel’s flat out refusal to follow the right path or “derek” and the subsequent judgment as a result of that.

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“But they said, ‘We will not walk in it’.” Then God says (or through Jeremiah says), “Hear, O earth; I am going to bring disaster on this people…”

The prophet Jeremiah serves as a type of covenantal lawyer bringing charges against Israel when they break their end of the bargain. Jeremiah also promises that their will be a new covenant that will help with restoration.

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Is it necessary to address all of this in order to pray over a scripture? Absolutely not. But I personally like to know where I am in the bible – what lines come before and after the scripture, what passages, and what books. What is the context? And this is probably rooted in the fact that I’ve studied theatre for years and actors need to know where in the play they are. What scenes have come before and where is the text leading the characters?

The other day I saw reactions on the internet to the Pope kissing a man with boils on his face. People were deeply moved by his compassion as was I. And it made me think of another beautiful scripture, 1 John 4:7-8. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” And even though a little further down there is the line, “God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God,” I believe that anyone who reflects love, reflects God regardless of religious denomination. When I worked in a nursing home, I witnessed staff embody the same compassion as the Pope, giving of themselves selflessly to those most ill. And our staff was made up of people of all faiths and people not of faith.

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The bible is an interesting document. I believe it is the inspired word of God; I also believe that because it was written by humans it is also flawed. And the way people distort scriptures for ill and evil disturbs me greatly.

I have loved words all my life and have taken deep solace from poetry. How I made it until my late thirties never having read the bible is a mystery to me. Yet when my mom died and someone sent me an email with Ephesians 1:18 that said, “I pray the eyes of your heart may be enlightened that you may know the hope for which you are called,” it was as if this blanket of peace enveloped me the minute I said those words out loud. Something mystical was taking place when I interfaced with the scripture.

With all the arguments over whether the bible is the literal word of God, I hope the book continues to be read and to be read critically. I don’t know much about precious stones but I have this image of a jeweler appraising a diamond by holding it up to the light and examining it from a variety of different angles to see its value and integrity.

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I am grateful that my friend sent me that scripture for it prompted me to look more deeply at the Word and to discern what it was saying – in its ancient context and to me personally in this moment in time.

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