by Lia Lewis
During the last few days, the Bible has been disrespected not only by President Trump but also by many people who sought to defend it. The Bible is being used as an instrument of political rhetoric in a divided country. It has been subjected to ridicule in a time when we should be reading it, praying, and taking solace from it. The Bible is God’s promise to His creation for the time that is yet to come, a time of peace and reconciliation. Because He sends us the Holy Spirit, His Word becomes more than just sentences in a book. It becomes the mighty wind blowing that fans the fire that is God within our hearts, reconciling us to each other in Christ
One illustration of the high esteem of the Bible in the Orthodox Church is the procession of the Gospel in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Historically, the Gospel needed to be moved from storage to be read from the altar during the liturgy; it was processed from the chapel to the altar by way of the church. Over time, the procession of the Gospel became an important feature of the Divine Liturgy in itself, rather than simply an act of moving it between locations.
In the secular world, some politicians have been calling for us to follow the Bible’s teaching. Some of these politicians claim that if only we followed the Ten Commandments, we wouldn’t need secular laws. If we followed the Bible in the way they suggest, we would need to return to certain old-fashioned values that are no longer feasible in the contemporary world. We are asked to lean to the far right because God is harsh and unforgiving. And we are told that God should be in our government, even though not all believe in God or are Christians. On the other hand, others see the Bible as nothing more than a book that tells a story and teaches a lesson, and not the living Word of God. In different ways, all of us are guilty of treating the Bible as just another book, of not taking it seriously as God’s Word
Such disregard led to President Trump’s crossing the street to stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church and pose with the Bible for a photo opportunity. His action was a disrespectful misuse of the Bible, like a parody of the Gospel procession in the liturgy. Rather than being a leader and comforting us during these times of unrest, he mocked God’s Word with his actions.
When we instead allow ourselves to encounter the Bible as God’s Word, it has the power to heal divisions and bring about forgiveness and reconciliation. As the Gospels teach us, Jesus Christ preached love and forgiveness all throughout His ministry. He forgave the Pharisees for condemning Him. He forgave all who beat Him, tortured Him, and crucified Him. He even forgave the robber next to Him who demanded to get him down. In Matthew, the Apostle Peter asks Jesus: “‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18: 21-22). Jesus meant that no matter what, we should always forgive those who sinned against us, regardless of how many times they’ve done so. Forgiveness of our offenders is difficult to give without prayer and fasting. We have a difficult time forgiving our brother or sister. And in some instances, we may forgive, but we may never forget the slight that was done to us, which forever influences our behavior towards the offender.
During this time of upheaval, we need to take a step back and breathe. We need to reflect on God’s Word. We need to kneel down with our brothers and sisters in Christ, not in protest but in prayer, to show that we are one in God and not divided. We must be unified, because without oneness, we will not be able to rise above our fallen humanity. (“And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” – Mark 3:25.).
You could say that Satan is at work here, but we can’t give Satan all the credit. As humans made in God’s image and likeness, we’ve been granted free will. We don’t need Satan’s influence to choose to throw a rock through a window or to walk across the street and hold up the Bible as if it were a comic book. We have the choice of putting down the rock and picking up the cross and following Christ. He asks us to love one another with one mind so we may confess our love for Him.
In His wisdom, God used a basic “pattern” to create us, but from this basic “pattern,” He varied His creations. He made us Black, White, Brown, etc. Through this diversity, God expresses His love for His creation. This diversity makes us unique, but it is this uniqueness that unites us in God’s love. This is one of the lessons of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descends on all of us. We are out in crowds fighting the system and protesting injustices. But we should not forget that there was another diverse crowd in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-12):
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance…And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”
The miracle of Pentecost reverses the Tower of Babel incident in Genesis, where God punished us for our arrogance. The miracle of Pentecost wipes away this sin of arrogance and urges us to follow a new path. Once again, we should take a deep breath, still our minds and listen for the “sound” of the Holy Spirit and let the Holy Spirit’s touch “blow” over us as “a mighty wind.” And rather than set fire to cities, we should let the Fire of the Holy Spirit set our hearts afire.
Lia Lewis is a graduate of Holy Cross Seminary and author of the blog Orthodox Chick with a Blog. She lives and works in New Jersey.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.