Archive for February 6, 2009
People need two things for everything they do: a will and power. They need to want a certain thing, and then they need the means to obtain it. Now this world is full of resources that can give people power to achieve their goals.
The most obvious resource is money. If someone wants to go on an outreach to Niger, Africa, to help in an irrigation project, he needs money to accomplish his plan. If he does not have the money and no one else supports him sufficiently, he will not be able to go to Niger. Although he sincerely believes the outreach to be a good thing, he cannot do it because he lacks the power.
Another person has very different desires. He would just love to live a completely irresponsible lifestyle—in regard to himself, other people, and the environment—but is stuck in a low-paying job and a network of responsible relationships. If he had enough money, he would immediately quit his job, break off his relationships and live destructively.
Money can be used both for good and for evil, because money is simply the power to fulfill one’s desires (and these desires can, of course, be good or evil). But money is not the only resource for power. Celebrities, for example, furnish power over great masses of people. If celebrities decide to wear a certain style of clothes, the man (or woman) in the street will follow suit and wear something similar. If a celebrity has a certain opinion on a matter, soon many of her fans will loudly proclaim the same opinion as if it were their own.
Companies know that. When an acquaintance of mine had a taste of fleeting pop-stardom by winning a casting show, fashion companies gave her clothes for free. They realized that by wearing their clothes she would stimulate prospective customers. Companies spend vast amounts of moneys to get their names printed on the shirts of sports teams, or to have a famous television host recommend a particular brand of candy in a TV ad, or to take a picture of an A-class actor wearing specific sun-glasses or a watch. Different interest groups, too, are eager to win celebrities for their cause. Pro-abortion groups or anti-war movements like to show pictures of celebrities marching in their protest rallies. Christians are no exception in this regard. They rush at every celebrity who makes a pro-Jesus remark or calls himself (whether truly or not) a Christian.
Now in a way the Bible is similar to money and celebrities. It is a resource for power. If you can convince people that your desires are in line with the Bible—that what you want to do is, in fact, what the Bible says one should do—then many of them will be swayed and help you to achieve your goals.
The reason is not that the Bible is necessarily of divine origin, but that people think it to be of divine origin. If you can convince God-fearing people that your command is God’s command, that what you say is what God says, that your proposition is in actuality God’s Word—why, then, what choice do they have but to place themselves at your disposal? Therefore, like money and celebrities, you can use the Bible as a tool of power to steer people and events into the direction of your desire. Put positively, you can use the Bible to influence people; put negatively, you can use it to manipulate them.
What makes the Bible different is that it is a much more accessible tool than money or celebrities. To the average person, both money and celebrities are hard to obtain. But the Bible is not. The Bible is standing on his or her book shelf, waiting to be picked up and wielded as a weapon of power. A book that millions of people look upon as the Word of Almighty God is available for everyone’s use. It is like the credit card of a millionaire, like one’s personal celebrity to promulgate whatever product one wants to sell.
Since this is so, since the Bible is such a ready weapon for everyone, we can expect it to be used both by the best of people and the worst of people. We can expect someone who wants to serve people, restore relationships, teach truth in honesty and integrity, and bless his community, to use the Bible to convince people of the rightness of his cause. But we can also expect someone to use the Bible who wants to dominate people, bring division, teach what is fashionable or self-serving, and use his community merely as a springboard for his own career.
Both people might misinterpret the Bible. The first one sees a good and honorable lesson in every passage because he, himself, is good and honorable. He wants to use the Bible for good purposes, and therefore bends every verse in the Bible until it fits his good purposes. The second one does the same, only that he uses everything in the Bible to propagate his evil purposes—whether that be sectarianism, the oppression of women, legalism, slavery, or anti-Semitism.
Even Adolf Hitler used the Bible for his purposes. “My feelings as a Christian point me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter,” he pronounced in the early years of his diabolical movement. “It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice. (…) And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”
Let me repeat that this does not prove or disprove the Bible’s divine origin. It only proves that many people consider it to be God’s Word, and that for this reason it is a ready tool for anyone who wants to accomplish anything in this world—whether good or bad. Therefore, the positive and negative influence of the Bible is something that should be expected. It would be surprising if it were otherwise. God and the devil need to have no more to do with it than with the influence of money. Both are sources of power because people have given them authority, and both can therefore be used either for good or for evil.
(This was a slightly modified excerpt from the The C. S. Lewis Book on the Bible: What the Greatest Christian Writer Thought about the Greatest Book.)