The Bible: Breath of life or smothering weight?

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By Rev. Michael Duncan

After all these years, the Bible remains a best-selling book.  For many, it is a source of life and inspiration.  For some, it is a window through which the revelation of God shines. For others, it can be a smothering weight.

I can’t remember a time when I did not read the Bible.  I still have my first Bible, which I received as a Christmas present when I was 5 years old. My name is written on the presentation page, in pencil, in my father’s handwriting.  It is the only example I have of his handwriting.  I cherish that Bible.  

That cherished copy is not the only Bible I own.  I’ve done my share to make the Bible a bestseller.  I have Bibles of various versions and translations and formats, including several in digital format.  Yes, this old guy can whip out his iPhone and quickly search the Bible for just the right passage.

Almost everyone I know speaks of cherishing and honoring the Bible.  They should.  It is sacred.  Of course, the use to which we put it is not always sacred.  

Mark Twain shared a vivid example of the poor and wrong use of the Bible.  As a young boy, he saw a man shot.  The man was later carried into a house.  There, the young Twain observed the man dying.

“... the great family Bible spread open on the profane old man’s breast by some thoughtful idiot, and rising and sinking to the labored breathings, and adding the torture of its leaden weight to the dying struggles... In all the throng of gaping and sympathetic onlookers there was not one with the commonsense enough to perceive that an anvil would have been in better taste there than the Bible, less open to sarcastic criticism, and swifter in its atrocious work.”  (Harriet Elinor Smith, et. al., editors, Autobiography of Mark Twain:  The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1, (Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2010) Kindle Edition, location 4519.)

I’ve seen the Bible used as an anvil... children forced to read it and/or memorize verses as punishment;  preachers and other authority figures pulling verses out of context to prove  points, not to mention to get their way. 

Wrongly used, the Bible can crush the life out of a person as surely as an anvil laid across the chest.  

When used as it was meant to be used, the Bible is a book that opens to us the wonder of a creative God who never gives up on rescuing a people who continually seek to be gods unto themselves.  It conveys the story of the Man of Power, who bowed to become servant to those who would call Him Lord.  It opens the door to a way of living that leads to life.

Twain said of the incident above, “In my nightmares I gasped and struggled for breath under the crush of that vast book for many a night.” 

How we view and use the Bible has a lasting impact on our own lives. 

How we view it and use it in relationship to others may determine whether they find it to be the Breath of Life or the smothering weight of an anvil.