The Good Parts Version (Jan. 22, 2013)

…Opening To…

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. (George Bernard Shaw)

…Listening In…

Daughter Babylon, you destroyer, a blessing on the one who pays you back the very deed you did to us! A blessing on the one who seizes your children and smashes them against the rock! (Psalm 137:8-9; context)

…Filling Up…

The third thing not to do when you read the Bible is to read only the “good parts.” The practice of selecting only certain parts of the Bible is so widespread that we regularly do it in our churches when we read passages aloud. Sometimes, we edit parts out for brevity, but in many cases, we edit parts out to censor the “bad” stuff in the Bible. Take Psalm 137 for instance, the final two verses of which are quoted above. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard them because they always get edited out in church.

These verses and other difficult passages in the Psalms and elsewhere (the slaughter at Jericho in the book of Joshua comes to mind) make my stomach turn. How can we keep ourselves from excising these parts from our Bibles? How can we integrate even these hard parts into our lives of faith?

Let’s keep Psalm 137 as our example. This psalm is written from a place of desolation and utter grief as the writer remembers the captivity in Babylon. In 586 bce, God’s people in the land of Judah were taken into captivity in Babylon, victims of conquest and expansion; they lost homes and lives and loved ones. The captivity lasted for decades. The writer remembers the sorrow and hopelessness of those years, in which the captors mocked the people, commanding them to sing their old songs. The writer grieves the loss of Zion, vows never to forget Jerusalem, and then rages at the Babylonian captors.

But the writer expresses rage in the context of a prayer to God. The writer gives the grief and rage to God because they are unbearable. If we remove this passage from our Bibles because it is difficult, we may never discover that God is available, able, and willing to bear our grief and rage. We may never realize that those feelings are natural. If the passage remains, however, we will know that we may not be able to move past these natural feelings right away. We may not be able to forgive or hope just yet. But God will forgive and hope in our stead until we are ready to move past those feelings. This is just one example why editing the Bible to just the “good parts” is a bad idea.

…Praying For…

Dear God, I pray that I can trust you enough to know that you will be with me as I struggle with the difficult parts of the Bible and will hold them in trust until I am ready to integrate them into my life of faith. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, trusting that you will grant me the patience to study the Bible slowly and keep my eyes and heart open for your presence in my life.

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