I’m beginning to think that maybe it’s the Bible that should have the words “Don’t Panic” inscribed on its cover. Or at least each one should come with its own pointy hat because people, whether they realize it or not, use the Bible as their personal pope. At first passing glance, this doesn’t sound so bad. After all, how bad could a person end up if they are trying to follow the teachings of a spiritual book? Well, let’s see.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the Scriptures. I have read and studied them for most of my adult life. One thing has kind of haunted me the last couple of years: what if I’ve missed the point of the Scriptures? By that I mean, what if I’ve been trying to make the Bible into something it not only isn’t, but never claimed to be.

You see, the Bible tends to suffer more in the hands of its friends, those people who claim it as the authority of their lives. It’s been my experience that, far too often, there is an unfortunate correlation between the amount of Scripture knowledge and the meanness of the person. Of course, this probably has more to do with the person being mean, and Scripture knowledge simply gives them new weapons with which to be mean.

There are some limitations to the authority Bible. Well, limitations isn’t the right word, more like the inherent risk of its authority being abused. It hasn’t stopped a war, but it has been used to justify many of them. It has rarely stops arguments, but has often caused divisions. It has been used to prop up the majority view, giving authority, even legitimacy, by proxy. How many times has the Bible been used to trump alternative perspectives allowing only discernment through the lens of a single, traditional hermeneutic? Yes, I’m still in a de-constructing mindset as I examine a few things about religion that has been handed down. Traditions and mindsets need to be periodically examined to see if they remain relevant.

The problems started when we adopted the Enlightenment mindset at the beginning of the modern era. We assumed the posture of objective observer, compiling evidences and categorizing our theology in our efforts to understand God. We claim the Bible as our foundation in one breath, then prop up our foundation with science, evidence, and proofs. [This is not a shot at apologetics, it’s just that so often, we do apologetics wrong. Apologetics for Christians to help intellectual Christians think through their faith is great. Apologetics for non-Christians in an attempt to logically sway them into faith (read: argue with them) is worthless. The Bible means very little to most non-Christians.]

The problem is that we end up making the Bible into something that not only is it not, but it never claims to be. It’s not an answer book for every question in your life or to govern every aspect of your life. (People turn to it and if there’s an issue that the Bible doesn’t comment on, it must be bad). It is not an encyclopedia. It’s not a scientific text. It’s not a history treatise. It’s not a self-help guide. But when we treat it as such, we drive out the mystery from our spiritual lives. It’s this kind of reductionism that allows a person to wave around a verse thinking that should settle an argument. It’s also this kind of propping up that shakes our “foundation” whenever something proves one of our props wrong. When Galileo proved that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, people’s faith took a hit because they were treating the Bible as a scientific text (and if science proves that there is a definitive “gay” gene, watch out).

Who values the Bible more: the one who knows its proper place and use or the one who tries to bend it for every purpose? The proper antidote to abuse isn’t disuse, but proper use. I think that I’m coming to a better understanding of what the Bible is for and its role in my life.

One group of people who have trouble with this is preachers who have staked their own personal authority on being the sole interpreter for people. In fact, let me not restrict this to preachers, but include people who subscribe to “expository preaching–running Bible commentary–as the best way to do a sermon”. Or, for that matter, let me include people who think all they need is themselves, the Bible, and God: the sad reality is that the authority of the Bible usually becomes equal to the authority of the interpreter.

Let’s face it, we want truths that fits into what we’re comfortable with and that mindset can deceptively set us on wrong paths. If, in your reading of the Bible, it only seems to confirm what you already think, then you’re probably mis-reading the Bible. If, in your reading of the Bible, you never come across anything that upsets or challenges you, you’re probably mis-reading the Bible. You can’t go to the Bible to prove what you want to say, using it simply as a vessel to prop up your own authority.

Think of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons (because, you know, when in doubt, ask yourself “what would Bugs do?”) He’d pop out of the dirt and there would be an arrow pointing toward in which direction Albuquerque lay. He didn’t stop at the arrow; the arrow pointed the way to his destination. We tend to stop at the arrow and act as if we have arrived. The Bible is our arrow, not our destination. The destination is Christ.