Growing up a Christian fundamentalist, I heard more than one of our preachers make the comment that "a text taken out of context is a pretext." I was reminded of that yesterday as I looked over my daily update from the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. In it was an interview with former pastor Eric J. Bargerhuff concerning his new book Surprising Ways God's Word Is Misunderstood.
This is a very short interview, or promo-op, but does highlight several Scripture verses that we hear (that is, if "we" spend much time around Christians) quoted and "misused," according to Bargerhuff. For example, he explains Phillipians 4:13, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength," which is quite popular among the athletes. "It's not about God giving you the strength to dunk the basketball as much as it is him working in you to be content no matter what happens in the game," he tells us.
Then there is this interesting nugget. Interesting to me, anyway. Bargerhuff gives his thoughts on Jesus' promise as contained in John's gospel, chapter 14, verse 13: "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son." A tall promise, to be sure, to which the author explains:
God is not a genie in a bottle. Yes, he has a good, pleasing, and perfect will. But this doesn't mean we should pray for whatever we want. We are sinful people and don't even know what's best for us, as the Book of Romans says. Sometimes we pray with wrong motives. Praying random prayers that are self-centered is not God-honoring. We should seek his will when we pray.
So if any of our Christian friends are planning on branching out with their faith and playing the lottery, perhaps they had better check the "fine print" of the promises of God.
The truth is, the Bible can be read in any number of ways (obviously, when we look out at the hundreds of Christian sects among us) and can be made to say might nigh anything the quoter wants it to say.
So maybe Christians don't so much misunderstand their book, they just read it through the glasses of their own personal philosophy.
To most of the Christians I know personally, and certainly speaking for myself when I was one, God is never of thought of in terms of a cosmic genie, but rather as a kind and loving father. All of us know that our parents could sometimes be cajoled into letting us have what we wanted. (My God was very much like my parents, because he answered "No" to a whole lot to my requests.)
Now if we all could all just be happy with what we get in life instead of being unhappy because we didn't get what we wanted, we could be at peace. For me a stoic resignation has helped a lot. And Stoicism has helped me to overcome the angst a lot of my former Christian myths brought into my life.
Nor do I have as many questions and needs for books like this one.