Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

Bespoke Belief?

The more people become estranged from the word of God, the more what they believe and place their hopes on ceases to be the Gospel. We even have the promotion of a Gospel for this group or that group, a Gospel tailored for one demographic or another. There is some legitimacy to tailoring a Bible for some, for example for children, by simplifying language, including illustrations, perhaps focusing on the narrative parts of the Bible that tell stories from salvation history, and so forth. For instance, God parting the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross need not include the demise of the men of the Egyptian army. That God looked out for the Chosen People and saved them are the key age appropriate truths in this episode. Likewise, the abominable practices of the peoples that occupied the Promised Land before the Jews do not need to be mentioned to tender ears. That God kept His promise to the Israelites is the primary message of what happened after their forty years of wandering in the desert. But if Bibles are being edited, changed, twisted, or explained away so that the truth is falsified for the sake of one group of people or for an agenda, then to one degree or another it ceases to be the Word of God and a reliable source of moral and theological truth.

There have been constant efforts in the last hundred years or so to redefine the clear teachings of the Scriptures. For example, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah has become a mere violation of hospitality, not the obvious sin mentioned in the Bible. But if a lack of hospitality towards Lot’s two visitors, the angels that came to tell Lot to leave Sodom, then one is left to wonder how the entire planet is not already a smoldering cinder for all of the inhospitality that has occurred over the millennia. Shouldn’t God have rendered Bethlehem a barren waste for having turned Joseph and Mary away when she was obviously soon to give birth, soon to give birth to the Son of God, the Messiah? What about all of the inhospitality that was shown to Jesus during His three-year ministry?

The other passages of the Bible – both in the Old and New Testaments – that clearly condemn the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah have suffered revisionism as well. I heard recently someone discounting the Bible’s teaching in this regard because they claimed these passages were supposedly the basis of bans on interracial marriage. The implication here is that those verses no longer apply today even though they have zero to do with marriage or skin color.

What is at work here in this specific instance and in a more broad context is that something beyond the teachings of the Bible has become the basis of moral and spiritual truth for many people. That something, that mistakenly perceived basis and touchstone of truth, is now being used to judge and parse the Bible into acceptable and unacceptable teachings. God’s Word is now subject to man’s thoughts, God’s wisdom is now subject to man’s folly, God’s authority has been usurped by mankind’s whim. This becomes all the easier when Scripture scholars regard the Bible as mere literature, the product of men, not the product of men inspired by the Holy Spirit.

It is one thing to reject God’s wisdom and authority. He gave us free will to accept the truth or to embrace lies. We see this play out in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve believe satan’s lies over the truth God proclaimed. Later, people accepted Jesus or rejected Him. Some changed their minds, later rejecting Him or accepting Him. That is free will in action, free will to choose God aided by grace, or to reject Him apart from grace. Again, it is one thing to reject God’s wisdom and authority, but it is quite another thing to pervert and twist His teachings. Jesus makes this point as follows: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Mt 18:6-7).

But what is that something, that mistakenly perceived basis and touchstone of truth, that people are embracing in lieu of the Gospel? The fact of the matter is that there are any number of things that become the basis of our truth when God’s word is rejected, neglected, or perverted. Nevertheless, it can be boiled down to one simple thing: hubris.

—Fr Booth