Do Christians Read the Bible?

When I was a kid questioning my beliefs, my curiosity and doubts were frequently ignored, discouraged, or shamed. The tools to learn for myself were scarcely provided. I was never challenged to figure it out. Anything remotely resembling an objection to the status quo was quickly and adamantly shut down as if it was a stumbling block. Or even worse: sin. When answers were provided, they were vague and insubstantial.

I would ask, "Why do we believe (random doctrinal statement or denominational tradition)?" Their reply would often be, "Because the Bible says so." The details of what the Bible actually said was rarely a part of those conversations. The authoritative impression is the Bible said whatever was convenient to support their perspective and my duty was to take their words at face value because, well, because the Bible said so.

So, I read the Bible to see if the Bible said what they claimed. And I read it more. Then some more. I kept reading it. I read commentaries and different translations. I studied the Koine Greek language so I could better understand the original context of the earliest texts we have available. I read books about the Bible and read the Bible some more. I still read it. The more I study the Bible, the more I'm convinced that the majority of people claiming to share my Christian faith don't read it.

Why do I have that belief? When I see how Christians act, the way they behave, the words they speak, the attitudes they display, so much of it is contrary to Christian scripture. This is either deliberate defiance or complete ignorance. Either people read it and decided it doesn't apply to them, or they have absolutely no clue what is contained inside the book they consider holy. This lack of Biblical knowledge was again made apparent for me over the last few days while the violence between the Israeli government and Palestinian protesters unfolded over news stories and social media. Considering the typical American and predominantly white, conservative, evangelical reaction, I feel compelled to document a pair of my core values that I believe because the Bible says so.

First, everyone is created in the image of God. In Christianese, we call them 'image bearers.' During the creation story contained in the first chapter of Genesis, God said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness." The 27th verse is one of the earliest Bible verses I memorized in my childhood church classes: "So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." That means every human born on Earth bear the image of God. Black, white, and every shade of brown; gay or straight; American, Asian, African, or any other region of decent; Muslims, Jews, atheists, and Jedi, all were created in the image of God. Nationality, sexuality, age, wealth or lack of wealth, religious belief, and political identification are all irrelevant.

If we are to take the Bible seriously, we should see the image of God reflected in every face we see. A Buddhist monk spinning a prayer wheel in a remote Tibetan village. A Hindu woman throwing colored powder during the Holi Festival in Delhi. A Christian teenager who hasn't told anyone he's gay because he's scared his parents will kick him out. A hacker in Russia. An undocumented immigrant in Arizona. A political prisoner in North Korea. A tribal leader in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. All are image bearers. You are an image bearer, so is the person you hate most in this world.

The creation story is not the only passage describing all people as creations of God. In the book of Job, the friend Elihu described God as impartial, showing no favor for royalty or the rich over the poor because they are all God's handiwork, "For they are all the work of his hands?" The 16th chapter of Proverbs tell us that God made everything, "even the wicked." In Isaiah chapter 42, God is described as the Creator "who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it." That passage doesn't specify only a select receive breath and life from God; breath is given to all earth's people, and life given to everyone who walks this world. The prophet Malachi asked, "Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us?" While in Athens, Paul preached, "He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth." Throughout scripture, I find a God who sees every single human on this planet as a person made in his image. If God sees God in all people, we should too.

image courtesy Buzzfeed

This means every Palestinian protester was created in the image of God too. When you applaud Israeli snipers, you're celebrating the destruction of God's image. You are relishing in the loss of a human life. When you say, "they deserve it, they had it coming," you're blaming an image bearer for their own demise. You have failed to see in them the beauty and intricacy of God's creation. We should never glorify death, we should never praise a killer. Your glee is antithetical to Biblical instruction.

Second, revenge is not a Christian activity. It is not our right. It is not our privilege. It is not our duty. There are certain matters of justice we should relinquish control. In Deuteronomy, God says, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them." As Christians, we must accept the fact that vengeance is a divine matter, not a human pursuit. We must also realize our definitions for words like due time, disaster, and doom are different to us than they are to God.

The writers of the New Testament reiterate this instruction to abstain from taking matters of retribution into our own hands. In Romans, Paul quotes the verse in Deuteronomy where God claims sole right to avenge. In the same letter, Paul implores us to live in harmony and writes, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone." The book of First Peter instructs us to be sympathetic, loving, compassionate, and humble. It says, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing." Then it quotes a Psalm, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech. They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it."

I am not naïve. I understand governments, judicial systems, and militaries pursue justice and vengeance on their own terms. This is not a plea for world leaders to abolish war and lay down arms. I do not believe victims of crime should be content if perpetrators walk free or that police should allow the underbelly of society to break the law without repercussions. At the same time, we as Christian individuals must have a different mindset. Our focus should be on peace, not revenge. We also need to recognize evil for what it is, wherever we see it.

Military snipers firing on civilian protesters armed with rocks and tennis racquets is evil. There are no qualifications, no exceptions. They killed children and the disabled. Their actions are wrong. You could argue how Hamas is evil, they've engaged in terrorism and they've caused great loss of lives. I would agree with you. But when you claim the Palestinians deserve to be killed because of Hamas, let me remind you, the Bible says we should not repay evil with evil. Palestinians killing Israelis is evil and Israelis killing Palestinians is just as evil. One does not justify the other.

image courtesy Sky News

Several dozen deaths and thousands injured. I cannot fathom how this remotely resembles doing what is right. There is nothing about Israel's handling of the protests that is sympathetic or compassionate. Monday's carnage is the opposite of harmony. This is not how you seek peace.

Stop dancing with joy over the deaths of a bunch of protesters. It's wrong. Why? Because the Bible says so.

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