Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Respect for the Word of God

Treating the Bible as Sacred

Does how I care for my holy book say anything about me?
Janice Sheridan

[This takes place as the author visits a church in Pakistan]

When our driver let us out in front of the church building, I hastily set my Bible on the van floor and stepped out. . . At that moment, I began to question if I had become too casual and overly complacent in my treatment of the Word of God. . . No tossing Bibles on the floor after Sunday school. That would be disrespectful.

Kent comments:

I appreciate the sentiment behind this.  The author, while visiting a church in Pakistan, notices that the Christians there treat their Bibles with great respect, as Muslims do copies of the Koran.

The Word of God should be treated with great respect.  But the Word of God is not identical with the printed letters on the page of a copy of the Bible.  The Word of God is that collection of concepts formed by those words – and ‘words’ in this sense do not require printing to exist in the way that words exist.  They only require minds – God’s and ours.

The “book” which records and conveys this to us is a piece of technology.  Some think that the technology of the “codex” – pages bound on one edge which can be easily ‘turned’ – was the invention of, or at least first used extensively by, Christians.  Whatever the case is in regard to origin, the modern book is a piece of information storing and retrieval technology.

Should we be careful just how we treat a piece of technology which conveys the Word of God to us?  Perhaps, at least in some settings.  But we cannot reasonably push this idea too far.

When some version of the Bible is loaded onto a Nook or Kindle, does that device suddenly become worthy of some special physical treatment?  Does that change in some way when such device is no longer displaying a Bible version?  What if the Bible version is not currently being displayed, but is stored on the device as a file?  We could ask all the same questions about phones and PCs that can display the text of the Bible.

So I am not sure if placing a copy of the Bible on the floor of a van is a significant problem.  Apparently Islam takes this kind of view of the Koran.  But with all due respect, Islam holds many problematic views.  It is probably not surprising that this approach has influenced Christians in predominantly Islamic countries.  And I might respect such a view if I were visiting such a place.

But outside of cultures with somewhat weird views about such things, there is no good reason to think that placing any book on the floor is an insult to the Word of God.  A book, just like a PC, digital phone, or e-text reader, is a piece of technology.  None of these is “The Word of God.”

So how do we treat the Word of God with proper respect?  By taking the time and effort to try to understand it correctly.  By applying it correctly and trying to live in harmony with those applications.  By paying careful attention when it is being read in public.

I have witnessed this scene in a church:  people gather on Sunday for worship.  As they do loud music is playing.  Rather than listening, many of them shout to one another to be heard over the music.  During all this someone is reading the Bible aloud.  But few are paying attention, partly because it is difficult to hear what is being read.

It is this kind of thing that is disrespectful toward the Word God – not where you store your copy of the Bible.

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