Monday, April 12, 2010

The Most Misused Verse in the Bible

I realize I haven't been offering many personal updates on this blog recently. The reason for that is simply that not much is going on in hoo-ha-ville--at least not much that is manifesting itself tangibly. I'm around cycle day 20 today, but my cerv-myu (as Pete calls it) has been pretty boring, so I'm not expecting the big O anytime in the next few days. I will consider it a major victory (and evidence of chinese medicine's efficacy) if Little Miss Eggy decides to free herself before CD 30. My last natural ovulation took place on CD 35 or 36, and the one before was on CD 33.

But I do have some perhaps more interesting news to report from Subculture-ville. You may or may not have picked up that I do, in fact, belong to this strange breed of people we call evangelical Christians. To be honest, I'm hesitant to admit that because of all the connotations those two words put together may have in your mind and your experience. But as much as I would prefer to focus on how my beliefs are "not a religion, but a relationship," and tell you that I'm a "follower of Jesus" instead of a Christian (these are well-loved phrases among those of us who wish to separate ourselves from the negative stereotypes surrounding evangelical Christianity), the fact is that I have grown up in the evangelical Christian subculture and remain firmly planted there to this day. I just like to think I'm not as arrogantly judgmental as the Christian church is characterized as being. Though, I think if the truth were told about all of us as a human race, we're all pretty judgmental. Some of us just choose more socially acceptable criteria for judging--and are better at keeping our mouths closed--than others.

Anyway. That's not at all where I intended to go with this post. I just felt the need to preface what I'm going to say with an admission of where it comes from.

In this evangelical Christian subculture, one of our favorite things to do is quote Bible verses to people. Are you battling fear? Memorize and hang onto to Joshua 1:9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." Are you having trouble loving that person who sits next to you in church? Cling to 1 Peter 1:22: "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart." We have an obsession with the Bible (and rightly so, seeing as we believe it's the word of God), and that obsession often turns into us picking and choosing verses here and there that we think might help or comfort someone. With mixed results, of course.

This is a particularly popular thing to do for people who are hurting. We don't really know what to say when someone shares their latest sorrows or struggles with us, and we often end up turning to the Bible. Again, with mixed results. I've had a few times when I've come crying to a friend or family member, and, in the context of a meaningful conversation, they've quoted a verse to me that came from a place of authentic pain in their lives, and the verse has become a lifeline for me. I've experienced others who respond to me with a quick verse that feels like a punch in the gut. Like what they're really saying is "If you really trusted God, you wouldn't be so upset about this."

One of our favorite verses to quote, in times of pain or otherwise, is Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.'" It's a great verse, really. God is speaking to the Israelites, who are in captivity and going through a lot of tough stuff, and telling them essentially that he hasn't forgotten about them.

But, like good Christians, we like to take that verse and quote it to anyone and everyone. High school graduates heading off to college. College graduates looking for a job. Single people looking for love. Families struggling to make ends meet.

Infertiles hoping for babies.

We like to think that the "you" in that verse is a universal you, and that "welfare" means what we want it to mean: good grades, jobs, marriages, babies, prosperity of all kinds.

We forget that this verse comes in the middle of lots of horrible suffering that the Israelites are going through and will continue to go through for quite a while before it ends. That God's perspective on welfare is a little different than ours. That "future" and "hope" both have to do with...well, the future. As in, what comes after the present.

Chris Blumhofer over at Relevant has written a great article about what this verse is really saying, which is what got me thinking along these lines in the first place.

Ironically, in certain subcultures among the evangelical subculture, this verse has almost become an inside joke because of how often it is misused. I guess we have found another criterion for judging other Christians--their Biblical interpretation skills (or lack thereof).

I am very fortunate that I haven't had anyone quote Jeremiah 29:11--or any other of the plethora of similar verses in the Bible--to me with regards to my fertility issues. I guess this would be the spiritual equivalent of those who tell the infertile woman, "Just relax and it will happen." Not so helpful.


Alex said...

Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing.

Although I consider myself a Christian, I'm not very active. But I really enjoy hearing about other people's beliefs, especially this post about Bible verses and infertility. So thank you!

Anonymous said...

Ahh, I knew it would be that verse!!!

Another (wary to admit it) born-and-raised Evangelical Christian here. I have thought a lot about that verse, and for me it really comforts me because it helps me to know the mind of God. He makes plans for the people he loves, and those plans are for their good.

Now I'm off to check out that link and see what else there is to it!

Great post.

Adele said...

This was interesting, and thoughtful. I'm not religious but I do come from a family with some members who are. That article is interesting, especially the idea of the "timetable".

Like you said, there are occasions when people quote the Bible (or poetry, or lyrics, or anything...which is not to make life of anyone's belief, just to say that people hold fast to different things) and you can see that it really and truly means something. But it's the emptily quoted stuff, the words that people don't even really take the time to understand, that get to me...and there's a lot of that in IF.

AnxiousMummyto3 said...

This is really interesting. I'm familiar with that quote, it is one of my favourites, but you are right that it is the equivalent of 'just relax.' I'll take a peek at the article if I get time!

Hannah said...

I read that article in Relevant too! And yeah, I really feel that when people quote the Bible at others, way too often it is not at all helpful. Our job is just to help comfort others, I think.

This is a paragraph from the book, the The Infertility Companion by authors Glahn and Cutrer: "When someone having a great day says, 'Trust God,' to someone in pain, it sounds like a heartless accusation. It also robs the suffering believer of the opportunity to testify about God's grace. It's the comforter's job to weep; it's the hurting person's job, when he or she is ready, to tell others about God's sufficiency. Too often it happens the other way around. Would-be comforters leave people weeping after 'bearing witness' to them that God is sufficient."

Leslie said...

Yes, this definitely differs from my system of beliefs, and I enjoyed reading about it. I guess it would be difficult to sometimes understand when God means "you" as in "you, in particular" vs. "you" in the sense of "all of humanity, or at least all Christians :)".

Sometimes I wish I was religious, in the sense of thinking that this crap was all somehow part of "God's plan", but somehow it just doesn't work for me... I do want to sometime have a big discussion among infertiles about whether the experience is better or worse with a personal experience of a divinity. That would be an interesting conversation!

stacie said...

I have to admit I cringe when I see this scripture. Lately I seem to see it everywhere - and like you said, people like to think it universally applies to them and whatever they're going through. I haven't had anyone outright quote anything like that to me, but sometimes people say things that I know come from out-of-context bible scripture. Makes me nuts.