I have some cousins who are Christian fundamentalists. One of them subscribes to a publication that is dedicated to proving that the earth is only a few thousand years old, as the Bible implies. (Gen. 1:1-2:4a)
I looked at one of the articles in this magazine. The writer claimed that there exists a conspiracy among scientists to hide certain evidences that contradict current estimates of the age of our planet.
I recall two of the items that the article claimed existed. One was an old frying pan, supposedly embedded in a seam of coal. The other was the mummy of a human baby, discovered inside a geod.
The term geod many be unfamiliar to you. Imagine a huge layer of molten lava. Imagine bubbles of hot gases rising within the liquid rock. Imagine the lava cooling and become hard before some of these bubbles reach the surface. Eventually the gases escape and hot water, percolating through the porous lava, deposits silica inside the geod (beach sand and agates are composed mostly of silica). The silica may form layers of agate, or it may grow into beautiful crystals. Either way, a ball of silica is left inside the lava. That ball is called a geod. Often a geod is hollow in its center.
So, imagine (if you can) the body of a human infant, somehow trapped in a geod. Doesn1t make sense, does it? The extreme temperatures would burn up any tissues and bones.
But this publication stated that the mummified baby in the geod was on display in a museum in a certain small town in Wyoming.
Well, that next summer my family and I were driving through Wyoming, and although I did not believe the article, I decided to stop and inquire about this supposed geod with a mummy inside.
I was sure that my search would produce only the skeptical response, “What mummy? What geod?”
But I was wrong. In that town no one asked me, “What mummy? What geod?” Instead, they asked me, “What museum?”
There was no museum in that town. No geod, no mummy. It was a lie, part of a bigger lie in an article designed to persuade people to believe every statement in the Bible.
Doesn’t that seem strange, to lie in order to get folk to believe the Bible?
I love the story of Jonah. The Assyrians were Israel’s greatest and most hated enemies. But God tells Jonah to go east to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian empire, and prophesy. Instead, Jonah goes west, in a boat, directly away from Nineveh.
You remember the story — the fish big enough to swallow Jonah whole, the city of Nineveh so big that it would take a man three days to walk across it (60 miles or more!). Eventually Jonah does go to Nineveh and does preach, and the Assyrians listened to him and repented.
The story of Jonah is a good lead-in to Jesus’ teachings about loving our enemies and making disciples of all nations.
However, a radio preacher devoted a whole sermon to argue that the story of Jonah really happened, just as it is written — a monstrous fish, three days in its belly, Nineveh larger than Los Angeles. This preacher spend his whole sermon claiming that the story was historically true — and he never said anything about the meaning of the story!
Doesn’t it seem strange, to try to prove the Bible is always accurate but neglect its message?
In Mt. Zion cemetery in Jerusalem lies the grave of a man without a head. The man was Sir Flanders Petrie, the father of Near Eastern archaeology, the greatest archaeological genius of modern times. His head is missing because he bequeathed it to the Royal College of Surgeons in London.
At age 13, Flinders became enthralled with a book entitled Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid. The book was written by a family friend, Piazzi Smythe, who claimed that the plans and measurements of the pyramids of Giza concealed prophecies of every subsequent event for the Israelites and the British people.
At age 27, Flinders, now an expert surveyor, traveled to Egypt to measure the pyramids. The task took him two years. He lived in a tomb, avoided the tourists by working from 5 to 9 each evening, stripped naked because of the heat and dead air.
The results? No prophecies were hidden in the numbers, because Smythe’s measurements were simply wrong. Not only that, but Flinders found where one person had tried to file down a granite stone so that it would fit Smythe’s claims.
Doesn’t it seem strange, to fake evidence in order to make the Bible appear to be foretold?
In an adult Sunday school class, a man raised his hand. “Is the story of the Good Samaritan true?” he asked. “Did it really happen, just the way it’s reported?”
The teacher replied that it was a parable, not a newspaper article. It is a story about love of one’s neighbor. It does not have to be accurate.
“Oh, yes it does,” the man insisted. “The Bible is either the Word of God, or it is not to be trusted.”
Doesn’t it seem strange, to assume that God can convey truth through historical literature, but not through story or legend or parable?
Our oldest daughter was asked by a school mate, “Do you believe in dinosaurs?” When Sheila said yes, the other girl replied, “I thought you were a Christian! Remember, dinosaurs are not mentioned in the Bible.” Sheila pointed out the fact of dinosaur fossils, and the girl replied, “God put those fossils there, in order to test our faith!”
Doesn’t it seem strange, that God would deliberately trick us into disbelieving?
Our scripture this morning tells of God creating the universe and the earth and every living thing on the earth. It is not a scientific article, telling us the how or when of creation. It is a faith account, telling us the who and why of creation.
Most Christians do not have a great difficulty in accepting this distinction. So I ask again, why would some folk lie, ignore the meaning, or even fake evidence in order to prove the inerrancy of scripture? Why would some folk argue that parables must be historically true or that fossils must be God-given deceptions?
I am relating these illustrations in order to sensitize us to something often not recognized: scriptural abuse.
Scriptural abuse is when a person uses the Bible to bolster his or her authority and control over others. Scriptural abuse is when a person uses the Bible in a self-serving and manipulative manner.
A pastor tells a woman who was recently widowed that she must thank God for her husband’s death. The woman is shocked at this terrible advice. But her pastor informs her that The Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances. Therefore, God wants you to thank Him for your husband’s death.”
This pastor was guilty of scriptural abuse. Paul writes that we are to give thanks in all circumstances, but that is not the same as giving thanks for all circumstances! This pastor also forgot that Jesus wept at the graveside of his friend, Lazarus.
The prophet Samuel told Saul, Israel’s first king, that God wanted Saul to destroy all of the Amalekites, one of Israel’s neighboring nations. When Saul spared the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, Samuel denounced Saul as disobedient to God.
A modern televangelist took this story and argued that Israel today would be unfaithful to God unless Israel destroyed every man, woman, and child of their neighboring nations.
That call for war was scriptural abuse. Jordan, Syria, and Egypt are not Amalek. And the evangelist forgot that Jesus said we are to love our neighbors and that the peacemakers are blessed.
Beware of scriptural abuse! Become immune to it. How?
1. Grow in biblical knowledge. The Bible is still our very best source of faith and inspiration. Take it away from the abusers by becoming more and more knowledgeable.
2. Keep in mind that the last word of God is Jesus. He is the Word become flesh. Christianity began with a baby, not a book. Compare the claims of scriptural abusers with the teachings of Jesus.
3. Distinguish between what the Bible says and what people say the Bible means. A scriptural abuser will imply that his or her interpretation is the Word of God.
4. Study the Bible with those who respect and value you rather than control and manipulate you. Again, note how Jesus related to people and look for that same spirit within a teacher and a class.
This way, may the scriptures become for all of us a light lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Amen!
Retired minister and educator John Temple Bristow is the author of What the Bible Really Says About Love, Marriage and Family and What Paul Really Said About Women: The Apostle’s Liberating Views on Equality in Marriage, Leadership, and Love. Having taught in colleges and seminaries and served as pastor of Murray Hills Christian Church in Beaverton, Ore., he retired to Port Orchard, Wash.