In a recent column when I said that the Bible wasn't the fourth person in the Trinity, several readers asked me for further explanation.
Much of my early education about the Bible comes from my Baptist Sunday school teacher in the 1960s, Ms. Susan. She told us stories about long-haired, bearded heroes like Samson, Moses and Noah using cutout cloth figures she'd affix to a felt board. When she told us about the boy whose lunch helped Jesus feed the five thousand, she'd challenge us to find ways to help Jesus too.
Ms. Susan often quizzed us to see if we were paying attention. Correct answers got us gold stars on a chart. If we could recite our weekly Bible verse, she'd give us an extra star. Once we collected five stars beside our name, we got a candy prize.
In the event of a tie, she'd initiate a Bible drill, calling random scripture references like Isaiah 3:12 and 1 Timothy 1:6. The first child to find the verse broke the tie — not unlike sudden death overtime. If you think it's easy, see how long it takes you to find Hesitations 1:2.
Ha! No such reference. That was a trick. No star for me.
Her stories were so well told that when I arrived at Baylor University in 1975 for Dr. James Breckenridge's New Testament class, I figured I wouldn't need to study. The D- on my first test told me differently.
Soon my whole world was upended when I heard my professor's claim that if you read the Bible looking for literal facts, you'll be unable to reconcile the order of creation with that found in the second chapter. If you read the Bible for literal stories, you'll stumble where you read how Joshua made the sun stand still; quite a feat especially when you concede that the sun has been still for eternity. It's the earth that moves.
Did this mean that Ms. Susan's Bible stories were untrue? My ship of faith was sinking, but just before it capsized, my professors threw me a life preserver. They explained that Genesis, for instance, contained a deeper revelation than whether the world began 4,000 years ago or four billion years ago. The story of Adam and Eve teaches us that we are all subject to the temptation of arrogance and that God is able to redeem us from our fallen places.
Their teachings helped me realize that the Bible was a guide, but never intended to be an object of worship. The Bible should never be regarded on the level of deity, or, as I said in my previous column, the fourth person in the trinity. It is God's word to us, the story of his personal intervention in our lives. I regard its message, respect its words and revere its truths. But I don't worship it.
At the end of the day, I have to credit my father, my professors and Ms. Susan for teaching me that our challenge is not to memorize Bible trivia, but to live out its truths in everyday life — difficult truths, like loving one's neighbor as one's self and forgiving each other our trespasses.
Finally, it is the claim that the Bible makes about itself that I find most compelling, words expressed best by the Psalmist from the Message translation:
By carefully reading the map of your Word,
I'm single-minded in pursuit of you.
Don't let me miss the road signs you've posted.
I've banked your promises in the vault of my heart,
So I won't sin myself bankrupt.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and the author of "No Small Miracles." He also serves as an Air National Guard chaplain and is board certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at (321) 549-2500 or email him at [email protected] or visit his website at www.thechaplain.net. Write him at P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759.