I’ve been intrigued lately by an idea that seems quite prevalent among some Christians. As one hip and flashy church web site puts it: “The Bible is our guidebook for living. It is a road map; it’s an instruction manual.”
I mean, extra credit for correctly using a semicolon and the correct form of “it’s.” From a grammatical standpoint, this statement is golden. But from a theological standpoint . . .
I’ve been trying to imagine what in the world it would look like to use the Bible as some kind of manual for my life.
I would get up in the morning and wonder what to have for breakfast. I just turn to my handy dandy guidebook:
“Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” (Ezekiel 3:3)
Turns out, though, that I’m fresh out of scrolls–since, you know, the sixth century.
Genesis says I can eat of the fruit of any tree of the garden. An apple sounds good. Except that the apple tree is actually in my neighbor’s yard and the Bible also says “thou shalt not steal.”
What’s a hungry, Bible-following girl to do? Here we go:
“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” (Genesis 3:19)
Breakfast accomplished. Finally.
Now what? If the Bible is my road map, perhaps it will tell me where to go and what to do after breakfast.
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (Genesis 22:2)
Ummm . . .
“With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose.” (Deuteronomy 14:25)
So I will opt to let my son attend school, grab my money and go . . . where exactly?
“Go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Exodus 33:1)
“Go to your own land.” (Numbers 22:13)
“Go to the priest.” (Deut. 26:3)
“Go to this steward, to Shebna.” (Isaiah 22:15-16)
“Cross over to Calneh, and see; from there go to Hamath the great; then go down to Gath of the Philistines.” (Amos 6:2)
“Get up, go to Nineveh.” (Jonah 3:2)
Well, OK. But I’m not sure I’ll be back in time to pick up my son from school.
Maybe the idea isn’t to use the Bible as a guide to every little action in my life. Maybe it’s mostly just for big things . . . like marriage, for instance.
“Go and lie in wait in the vineyards, and watch; when the young women of Shiloh come out to dance in the dances, then come out of the vineyards and each of you carry off a wife for himself.” (Judges 21:20-21)
Maybe the problem is that I’m only looking at the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps the “instruction manual” approach works better with the New Testament.
I could eat locust and honey, then go to get some water jars, or wash in the pool of Siloam, or cast a hook in the sea.
And as for marriage:
“It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” (I Corinthians 7:1)
(Don’t worry. There is nothing in my guidebook that prohibits me from saying “damn.”)
Sorry folks. While I do look to the Bible for guidance, the Bible is not my guidebook.
I take the Scriptures far too seriously for that. I respect the original authors and audiences of the Bible too much. I too deeply relish the genres of poetry and story and satire and apocalypse that are woven together in this spectacular work of literature.
The Bible is many things. But it is not an instruction manual. We cannot simply turn to paragraph 7 on page 549 to figure out who to marry or which job to take or how to clear my sinuses. It just doesn’t work that way.
But, by all means, feel free to eat bread for breakfast. And you can even head off to Nineveh, if you’re so inclined.