This is the second post in a series about how we Christians twist Christianity towards ourselves.
If you grew up in the western world, you are more inclined to think the world is about you as an individual, probably more so than any other culture on Earth thus far. Our rabid individualism knows no bounds and our disease hungers to increase its territory. When someone living in this milieu becomes a Christian and now submits to how the Bible teaches us to live, we should expect some problems with confronting our formerly self-obsessed selves. This is hard, though, because it’s like describing water to a fish. It’s all around us and has become invisible.
When we decide to follow Christ we can’t help but bring our baggage with us. The hope is that, over time, more and more of our old baggage gets dropped as we grow more and more into Who we are called to follow. I previously wrote about how we use community for our individualistic ends, this post will be about how we use the Bible as a means for our own ends. A spiritual selfie is taking something that out to be other-centered (or Other-centered) and contorting it inward towards ourselves.
We make the Bible a form of a spiritual selfie when we mine it for our own purposes. This is the opposite of what it means to submit. To submit to something means you bring your desires, wants, needs underneath something or someone else. If the Bible is God’s word to us, then submitting to the Bible means submitting to what God says: to Him, Himself.
How often have we used the Bible as a means for our own end? Probably all too much. Unfortunately, one of the most common exports of American evangelicalism has been the “prosperity gospel” but it’s more pervasive than even this: we furiously search for passages that slam our opponent, only read when we feel like we “need” it, read it every day as a means for us to look better and to look down on others, contort the context of the passage to put ourselves in its place, etc. Strange how the Bible always works in our favor in these moments, isn’t it?
If the Bible doesn’t offend us or disrupt us, from time to time at the very least, we’re either: 1. not reading it close enough, or 2. not bringing it close enough. Not reading it close enough is an interpretation problem. We don’t take the time to understand the context of the passage or don’t understand the words and phrases of the passage. Not bringing it close enough is an application problem. We can separate our lives from the text and fail to understand its radical restructuring of our lives.
Both interpretation and application problems lead us to a larger one: our heart problem. We can always benefit through academic learning, but mere book smarts (as helpful as they are) will never compensate for our coldness toward our Creator. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get better at interpreting or applying, it means those in themselves aren’t enough. But God is gracious to His children, even when they don’t deserve it. So the answer to the Bible becoming spiritual selfie’d (yes, I did use that as a verb again) is first to run to our God. Bring yourself to the cross of Christ, knowing that through His death means we can put to death our individualism. Bring yourself to the resurrected Christ, reigning now, praying for us now, knowing that through His life, we can experience new life, one that isn’t tied to our broken selves, but one that is tied to Him.
How do we bring ourselves to Christ? How do we understand our rightful place in our Father’s world? How do we understand that the Spirit is now working in us? The primary way we get to know these things is through God’s word. Now you may be asking yourself, “I thought he just said the problem of this spiritual selfie wasn’t fixed through interpretation and application?”
Here’s the key: it’s about how we read the Bible. We need to read with the eyes of humility, the mind of a needy servant and the heart of submission. The answer isn’t to read less, it’s to read more, and read it well.
The Bible is a collection of God’s words to us (2Tim 3:16). The same words that created the heavens and the earth speak to us today, and they’re in a book we can actually read. This should sound unbelievable! These words are truth (Jn 17:17). That means its authority is above our own, we submit to it, not the other way around (Lk 24:25; 2Pet 3:1-2; Rom 15:4).
Since the Bible is God’s word to us, we are called to submit to it, be humbled by it, have it correct us, teach us how to live (which assumes we don’t know how to do that on our own). It means letting God be God and letting us be humans. And if God is Who He says He is, that means it’s the best option for us anyway. He’s a good Father. He’s powerful and He’s present with us.