Side bar, Your Honor?
Many theologians, pastors, deacons and lay Christians–designations of which I believe Revelation condemns (we’ll get to that)–would be outraged if they had witnessed one particular conversation I had at a teenaged Bible study I led. One could have walked in on me asking, “Where are you in your devotions and personal Bible studies?” Unfortunately, the room was mostly silent. But that is the representation of the truth–most don’t read their Bible regularly. However, one hand went up. “I’m studying Job.” Here’s where I would have been thrown out if anyone who was not part the class walked in. “Stop,” I said. “Really, Russell? You have one single student who is actually reading his Bible and you tell him to stop?” Historically, Three or four actually. It always happens (hyperbole), it never fails. At every Bible study I’ve led, in each epoch and location, invariably, the only book of the Bible ever being read is Job. Don’t get me wrong, they showed up to Bible study and participated, I acknowledged that and appreciated that and certainly let them know that I did. I knew they could have done anything else with their time but they chose to come study the Bible. Yet I reminded them and will remind you: I also could be doing anything else in the world but I choose to study the Scriptures with you. In that, I explained to them and will explain to you that the book of Job, much like the book of Revelation, is meant to be read as a whole.
If our attitude about the Bible is that it’s an instructional manual, we can get very bad instructions from Job’s foolish friends. We tend to take the Bible out of context, and only read small samples. Surely that is better than nothing! Not necessarily. One quick example and then a few humourous anecdotes. Maybe one is down in the dumps, feeling blue and it seems like their whole world is collapsing. Everything seems to be falling apart at the seams. They have a Bible but never really read it. They’ve heard that the book of Job is all about Job’s suffering and God’s response. So they open their Bible to find answers and they read, “His anger has torn me and hunted me down, He has gnashed at me with His teeth; My adversary glares at me. “They have gaped at me with their mouth, They have slapped me on the cheek with contempt; They have massed themselves against me. “God hands me over to ruffians, And tosses me into the hands of the wicked. “I was at ease, but He shattered me, And He has grasped me by the neck and shaken me to pieces; He has also set me up as His target. “His arrows surround me. Without mercy He splits my kidneys open; He pours out my gall on the ground. “He breaks through me with breach after breach; He runs at me like a warrior.”
Though it seems true, and God certainly does use adversity to bring us to the end (I am still writing a book called, Ruined, for God’s Sake), of ourselves, Job is not looking towards the future, he’s inwardly focused. Notice: “Without mercy He splits my kidneys open; He pours out my gall on the ground.” Without mercy?
We can see how That’s not helpful without the context: “Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said, “Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? “Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct Me! “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who set its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it?”
Job’s ideas, while felt by all of us at times, weren’t correct. And the real problem is that they are close, and sound good. But a lie beautifully told is still a lie.
In the same way Revelation is meant to be read as a whole, in its entirety. For time’s sake we take it slowly while taking our vitamins. But most pastors and preachers, theologians and teachers, use verses that are taken out of context, then woven back together in a way that the Bible never intended.
Think of the young child who told a lie in front of his Sunday School class when asked if he studied his memory verse. “My dog ate it,” he said. The teacher called him out on it and asked, “Billy, what does the Bible say about telling lies?” Now, Billy was the pastor’s son (just kidding, the pastor’s son would never be called out, except if there’s a secret plot to get rid of said pastor… Let’s go with that scenario) saw how his father would take verses from all over the Bible to prove his point. Therefore, Billy was able to answer the Sunday School teacher’s question about lying with ease, he simply quoted Scripture. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,” and “an ever present help in the time of trouble.”
One other example of taking a verse out of context is the desperate man, at the end of his rope, who picks up the Bible looking for easy answers and reads, “Judas hanged himself.” Not good, he flipped a few pages looking for a better answer and read, “Go and do likewise.”
I know, terrible, but that’s how we treat the Bible often times. I can still quote 20-25 single verses in the King James. I have not read the King James version…Ever. It’s what I was taught. Not that there is anything wrong with Bible memorization, but why a single verse out of context–and in the King James version? Be honest, how many of you can’t quote John 3:16 without saying, “whosoever?” I can’t. Pop quiz, Vitamin A2, to whom was Jesus speaking? Simeon, very good. I didn’t fool anyone did I? Yes, Nicodemus, the Pharisee. Context is King!