Can anyone in the Western World ignore the Bible?
It seems it has always been around, and ever since the invention of printing, it has remained the world’s number one best seller, which it was from the very beginning.
In poverty stricken Europe, when printing was first invented, it was the first book people would purchase, no matter what the country.
As recently as 1953, at the coronation of the present Queen Elizabeth, every child born in England that year received a free copy of the King James version, compliments of the queen.
This love for the Bible has been universal. People have been reading the Bible for nearly 2,000 years and have been arguing about it for almost as long.
A very wise and brilliant priest friend of mine warned me when I told him I was going to write about the Bible, “You are entering deep waters here and will likely not please many. Scripture is such a multi-layered reality, with lots of nuances and hot button issues. It is resistant to generalizations. Also, I think we Catholics are still in kindergarten when it comes to the Bible.”
I had to write this column though. Recently, I made it a project to read the entire Bible, from Genesis straight through to Revelation, and I am glad I did. I can’t stop thinking about it.
I didn’t understand it all, that’s for sure, but there wasn’t any part of it which didn’t show off to me the power and goodness of God and God’s overwhelming love for the human race, no matter how much the record showed of man’s stubborn resistance to God.
I became so enthused about the Bible that I wanted to share my newfound enthusiasm for the Bible. To own one is like owning your own library. There is wonderful fiction (e.g. Job) and incredible poetry (e.g. Psalms). The image of God changes from book to book, beginning with what seems almost a primitive god of the ancient near east to a mystical god “whom eye hath not seen” in the Christian scriptures: infinite, eternal and all loving.
Not so long ago, at a Sunday Mass, the priest was encouraging us to read the Bible. He said, “And if you don’t have one in your house, just stop in at the nearest Baptist church and they will be glad to give you one.”
So it was that Baptists were known for reading the Bible and Catholics were known for ignoring it. I hope not anymore.
The trend today is that the Bible brings us together more than it pulls us apart. Protestants and Catholics sharing Bible study is more and more common all over the world.
While The Catholic church claims the Bible comes from the Catholic church, Protestant churches generally claim the church comes from the Bible, but both now agree the Bible can unite the human race more than divide it. Sunday readings are the same now in all of the mainstream Christian churches: Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Catholic.
I like to believe, and it has been my experience, that the real heart of Catholic identity is, in larger part, the same as the heart of Protestant identity found in the Bible.
It is this: that the overwhelming grace of God manifests itself in Jesus Christ, which calls us to forgiveness of enemies, hospitality to the outsider, nonviolence, respect for the dignity of human life not just innocent human life, which is fairly easy, but guilty human life, too, like the woman caught in adultery.
The Bible doesn’t have all the answers, but it is like a finger pointing towards the moon. Simply put, it is the word of God.