Recently, one of the members of the band Lady Antebellum posted a picture of her bible on their Facebook page. No big deal, except that moments earlier, their tour bus had caught fire and everything was destroyed....except for her bible.
The exact words from the caption of her picture were:
"I just got this picture from the scene of the fire and HAD to share this. Today, when our bus caught on fire we had quite a few personal belongings in the back ...(where I was asleep before evacuating the bus) one of them being my Bible. I kid you not, EVERYTHING in the back lounge was destroyed from the flames, except my Bible. The outside cover was burned and messed up but NOT ONE PAGE was missing. Yall, God's Word will always stand. He is FOR YOU, WILL PROTECT YOU, AND HIS LOVE FOR YOU WILL NEVER FADE. My faith is forever deepened because of today. I hope this story deepens yours."
You can imagine the kinds of comments that ensued:
"God is amazing!"
"The word of God endures forever!"
"Nothing on earth can destroy the word of God!"
"God is real!"
"God protects his own!"
"God is so good!"
And then there were a few comments that went more like this:
"This happened to me once.......Everything in the kitchen was burned except for the roll of paper towels. Praise the paper towels!"
"Children are starving, people are being raped and murdered, but thank God your bible is safe!"
I saw several of my Christian friends share this post on their own Facebook timelines.
I read this post, and I was instantly filled with what I can only describe as righteous anger.....for so many reasons, some of which I will try to explain here, not in an attempt to defame, discredit, or bash Lady A in any way, but in an effort to point out what is truly important.
First of all, let me say this. I am a Christian. I believe that the bible is the inspired word of God. I believe that the word of God is true and powerful and everlasting. However, I do not believe that God used supernatural intervention to save this woman's bible from being burned in order to prove a point, or to prove his existence, or to prove how good he is, or to prove the sovereignty of his word.
I reread this post several times.....and I kept coming back to the part that says "He is FOR YOU, WILL PROTECT YOU, AND HIS LOVE FOR YOU WILL NEVER FADE." No one was injured in the fire, thank God.....but accidents happen everyday, and sometimes, people are injured.....or even killed. In those situations, are we to infer that God's protection was lacking? That his love just wasn't as strong for those people on that day? Of course not. Problem number one that I have with this post: When good things happen, we can't keep attributing it to God's love and favor and protection because when bad things happen, his love and power remain unchanged.......it's just that sometimes, bad things happen. I'm genuinely happy that no one was hurt or killed in this fire, but had that not been the case, I can't help but think that this post would have been a lot different, when the reality is that God's love, protection, and promise to be "for us" is there no matter how the situation plays out. We as Christians have to affirm these truths, always....not just when we're thankful that things seem to have gone our way. I'm reminded of the words from one of my favorite songs, Blessed Be Your Name. Some of them include: "Every blessing you pour out I'll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, 'Blessed be the name of the Lord.' You give and take away; My heart will choose to say, 'Lord, blessed be your name.'"
An even better example of this is the story in the book of Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace. We seem to really love to focus on Daniel 3:17 " If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it and he will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand." But we often leave out the next verse, which I find to be an even greater testament of faith - "But if not, be it known to you, O King, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up." Wow. Such faith! Our God is able to save us......BUT IF NOT.....Blessed be the name of the Lord!
In other words, God is good....all the time.....in good times and in bad....and we should bless the Lord at all times, in all situations.
A small amount of research will reveal that often times, bibles do not burn in fires. This is because bibles are usually very thick with pages, and also have a thick (often leather) cover. When a hot, fast-moving fire tears through a structure, things like wood and plastic burn quickly and melt easily, but leather takes more time to burn through, which explains why many times the cover of the bible may be a bit worn or scorched, yet the pages inside remain unharmed. I haven't taken a poll, but judging from the comments written on this post by firefighters and their families, you could probably ask any firefighter, and they're likely to tell you that they've rarely seen a bible burn to consumption.
That being said.......bibles are made of paper. A very special kind of paper that allows for a book to contain a large number of pages that are extremely thin, and extremely strong. They actually contain fibers of cotton or linen to make them stronger than regular paper.
Paper burns. Period.
Even strong paper burns.
I assure you, if a fire was allowed to burn long enough and strong enough, or if you had some lighter fluid and just really wanted to burn a bible, you could do it. You can even google it and see it done in a matter of minutes. Could God stop that from happening? Absolutely. But I don't think he would. Know why? Because the bible is just a book. There's nothing holy about the book. There is something holy about The Word. And The Word is not something we carry around in our purses or on our Ipads, it's something we carry in our hearts. This is why it will never pass away. This is why it is indestructible. This is why it is, as the book of Hebrews calls it, alive and active.
So I read this post.....and the comments that followed it, on several different sites. And with each comment, I got more and more angry. People actually think the book itself is what's important. Let's remember, some of Jesus' most devout followers loved him and followed him before the bible was even written. Do people not know that some of the most God-fearing, vibrantly faithful people on the planet don't even own this book? That they're not allowed to? It reminds me of the group of people I reference in this post, who memorized portions of the bible because they were not allowed to have one. Knowing the word, and having it dwell within them was so important, that when they were denied the right to have a paper copy, they became living, breathing copies of the word of God. Instead of saying, "Hey, look at my bible, it's unscathed! God is good!" they instead say, "Hey, look at my life....look at the God who lives in me. Look at my body, it is weak and persecuted, and I don't have a bible, but the word of God is alive in me. God is good!"
I'll never forget several years ago, I went to a spiritual retreat of sorts called Cursillo. It was a wonderful weekend spent in prayer, study, reflection and unplugging from the world. I remember being with some members of my group, when one of the girls I was with saw me highlighting and making notes in my bible. "I wish I could do that." she said. "You can." I replied. This young woman, who if I remember correctly was gearing up to become a priest, was afraid to make marks in her bible for fear that she was desecrating a holy book. To her, the book itself was more important than the words it contained......the words that should be alive in us. When did making markings to better understand and apply the word of God become a sacrilege? I don't know.....but as I read through the comments people were making about the unscathed pages of this bible, I was made aware that there are clearly others out there that put the book itself in a place of high importance. Don't get me wrong, I love my bible......but as a tool. I remember having bought a new bible after I got married. With my newly-acquired surname, I had my name embossed in gold on the cover. But, since the bible was new, I had to transfer all my marking from my old bible to the new one. It took me a long time, but I wanted to have that information so that as I continued to study, I could apply the word to my life. But it was the saving truth of the words themselves, living in me, that were important......not the collection of cardboard, paper, and ink. So, go ahead....take my bible.....just give me the word.
So I went back and read the Lady Antebellum post again......."My faith is forever deepened because of today." Well.....I'm glad this woman feels as though her faith has grown. I don't know her, I certainly don't have any firsthand knowledge about her faith or the relationship she enjoys with God, and for these reasons (and others) I would never presume to judge her......but I can't help but question that statement a little. I mean......really? Your bible didn't burn, so your faith is deeper now? In my mind, I would like to think that I wouldn't equate that experience to that of the person who beat cancer, or the ones left in the aftermath of someone who didn't, or the person who worked to save their marriage, or overcame addiction, or went through infertility, or worked with orhpans..... I think I would glean more from talking to those who have actually been through some substantial and difficult things.....or by experiencing some difficult situations myself, before I would say that my faith in God has been deepened. Had her bible been consumed, would she have taken that as a sign of defeat or weakness on God's part? I hardly think so. So....why attribute a deepened faith to.....the condition of a book? If anything, I think my faith would be more affected by the fact that God saw fit to save me.....not my bible. The book of Romans 10:17 tells us that "...faith comes by hearing, that is, hearing the good news about Christ." (NLT) Other versions translate it "by the word" or "through the message that is told" but the point is, in order to have faith, one must hear the gospel - not own a copy of it. As much as I despise cheesy Christian sayings and adages, there is one that comes to mind because its sentiment rings true: "You may be the only bible some people ever read." How true! We should be focused on the message.....on the actual words, so much so that they pour out of us, spreading the good news! The word - not the book. The earliest followers of Jesus went around sharing the words they had heard straight from his mouth......there was no book to carry around with them. The message of Christ is the same today - simple. The method of sharing that message can be just as simple, but we have to esteem the message more than we do the book. "Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another..." Colossians 3:16
Perhaps what angered me the most, was that to non-Christians looking at this post and reading the comments, the focus wasn't on God's presence and faithfulness in our lives, it was on this book we were so happy to see intact. We Christians came across like a bunch of silly people that truly believed that God "saved" the bible from being consumed because the word of God (the physical book) simply, and matter-of-factly, could not be destroyed. Well, that's just silly.....of course it could. That's just science, which, by the way, God also designed. To claim otherwise in the name of God, just makes us look foolish, and the admittance of factual science does not in any way diminish our God or his power......so.....let's just cut it out already, shall we? One day, this whole earth is going to be consumed with fire, and guess what - every single bible on the planet will be burned right up with it.
Generally speaking, I'm no book burner, but given the choice between the burning of bibles and allowing the living word to burn within my heart......I say, let the bibles burn.
Let the connection to the book being stronger than the cherishing of the word, burn.
Let the pedestal on which we place this physical book, burn.
Let the attachment to this material thing that will most definitely perish one day, burn.
Instead......let us hide the word away in our hearts.
Let it pour forth from our lips.
Let it be the meditation of our hearts.
Let us live it out in our lives.
Let us keep it within us... where it cannot, and will not ever be destroyed.