Christians, mostly Protestants, have a problem with idolatry. We make idols out of people, buildings, institutions, titles and ideas. This is usually done with the best of intentions. We can convince ourselves, “we’re doing the right thing by what we know as established practice and maybe even honoring something worthwhile.” Perhaps the most glaring example of how we’ve turned something into an idol (an object which was never supposed to be worshipped) is our relationship to the Bible. We’ve made the Bible into an idol to be worshipped and feared. Each time we call the Bible, “THE WORD OF GOD”, the church thunders further down the road of worshipping something other than the God it reflects.
Our ancient Israelite ancestors set the stage for this idolatry. They wanted to make and worship a God in their own image. We tell that story and laugh at the ridiculousness of the Israelites and their desire to shape their understanding of God into a mirror image of themselves. We don’t realize when we’re doing the same thing. We’re taking the revelation of God interaction with history and turning what we think it says into a reflection of who we are and what we believe. We lead people to believe (or don’t adequately correct the misunderstanding) that God didn’t dictate the scriptures in the King James English to a group of translators in 1611. In this worldview, Bible can easily become an instrument of fear and oppression. As the old saying goes, “God’s word says it, I believe it.” If you don’t believe “it”, you’re probably not in with the religious “in-crowd”.
You can’t manipulate someone’s testimony. That’s what we’re doing when we create an idol out of the Bible. Scripture is the recorded testimonies of people’s stories about God. Men and women testify to the revealed presence of God in their lives. These stories, far from objects to be worshipped, are encounters which strengthen our own faith journeys and relationship with God. Their stories do not become our own but they help us understand the lives we are leading today. God’s love for humanity unfolds; one person at a time, throughout human history. The Bible tells us who God is and how God acts through history. The Bible is the story of God. Like a beautiful work of art, it testifies to who Jesus is and the genius of the painter. Rather than simple words on a page, The Bible’s brushstrokes speak in infinite ways to those who gaze upon its fully embodied reality. The subtle nuances we encounter in its page are not to be worshipped but explored.
The WORD OF GOD is not the Bible; the Word of God is Jesus Christ. In that moment, when our lives intersect with the reality of the resurrected Christ we have met the WORD OF GOD. The word of God is a person, a living breathing relationship with someone who completes the unfinished parts of our souls. The word of God compels us to be in community. This person, the WORD OF GOD, does not work through fear. Instead, the word of God takes away the anxiety we have which says, “You can never live up to the standards of the idols you’ve made in my image or of others.” Your testimony, your encounter with God, is as real as those recorded in the Bible. In Jesus Christ, the word of God, we see the embodiment of what it means to live up to everything God desires. Our lives are part of the quest to embody those standards in the here and now. His story becomes our story. The identities we carry with us, whether on paper or in our minds, are now intertwined with His. We are to be living examples of the WORD of GOD at work in the world. It starts by being in community, sharing in worship, spending time in prayer, and reading the Bible. The Word of God isn’t a book. The word of God is the baby whose birth we’re preparing to remember.