What to do when you’re: depressed/lonely/doubting/angry.
How to find help when looking for a job/tempted to despair.
Where to turn when people slander you or mock you for your faith.
It’s not the best way to read the Bible, but God used these headings to bring me comfort. (‘Longing for a relationship’ was especially well-thumbed – especially compared to the wisdom of Mizz Magazine (aka ‘shave your legs’ and ‘laugh at his jokes’).
However, as time went on, I found that some headings weren’t listed:
IVF. Social media. Anorexia. Snogging. Organic veg. Scottish independence.
On the other hand, some of the things that were, seemed a little obscure:
Managing mildew. Staying away from shellfish. Golden calves. Kings buying horses.
Did God not care about my pressing needs? Or was my Bible missing part of its index?
And what about the things that I understood with my head, but felt wrong when applied to real life? Forgiveness for example. Jesus says forgive others, just like I forgave you. In my own situation that’s hard to practice, but at least it makes sense. Yet sometimes when I try to apply it to others, the words get caught in my throat.
The friend who was assaulted and sexually abused. The wife whose husband abandoned her and her children. The gambler who spent her parent’s pension. In some cases the offender is sorry, but in some cases they’re not. In some cases they’re alive, but in others they’re dead. My friends ask me for comfort. But I’m scared to just sit with such pain, let alone speak to it.
Which takes me back again to the Bible. I still believe that it talks to every person in every context. The addict, coughing blood. The sunday school teacher, eyeballing a group of mutinous toddlers. The lover and the fighter, the healthy and the sick.
But does believing the Bible mean simply ‘laying down the law?’ Are God’s commands like straitjackets – ‘one size fits all?’
Writing to the Christian in Ephesus, Paul says, ‘forgive each other ‘(4:32) but he also gives them this context…
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
God doesn’t just give us a set of laws. He also gives us word-based ministers (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, v11) and the Holy Spirit. Why?
so that God’s people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity; until finally we all believe alike about our salvation and about our Savior, God’s Son, and all become full-grown in the Lord—yes, to the point of being filled full with Christ. (Eph 4:12-13).
In every situation God has a word for us. But the Bible is not about pressing folks with cookie cutter answers. If The Answer to each pastoral issue was just a verse, then we wouldn’t be taught how to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ Instead, God gives us His word and His Spirit and each other. Together, we pray for wisdom and together we search God’s word to find out ‘what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ (Rev 2:7).
We don’t close our eyes to the Bible and its truth, but neither do we close ourselves off from each other. There are answers which speak hope and life to us all. But they come in the mess of life together, and not apart from it.