The Hidden Danger In Our Favorite Hymn

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I grew up Catholic. Even though I’m not practicing today, I have a reverence for the rituals of the faith. They were imprinted on my soul at a very young age. In fact, if you look closely at my ultrasound pic, you’ll see me executing a picture-perfect sign of the cross in utero.

What’s interesting about ritual is that it can become so automatic that we miss its significance. That is, until we see it in a different context.   Take, for example, the time we were teaching our son the Lord’s Prayer. We marveled with delight one evening at the dinner table as he made it through the first half all by himself. Then he said,

“Forgive us our trash passes as we forgive those who pass trash against us.”

Even though he wasn’t perfect, we had to give him bonus points for coming up with a translation that is likely a more accurate representation of what Our Savior intended. Now that ritual has new life and meaning for me.

You’ve probably had the same experience if you have ever tried to teach your kids this famous prayer.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

This is hands-down, the most popular bedtime prayer in the history of bedtime prayers. Ritual. However, if your kids really listen to the words, there is a good chance they will NEVER. SLEEP. AGAIN. Think about it.

Mommy, who is this Lord and why is he hoarding souls as I sleep? Is my bed really some sort of death trap? Is someone really going to kidnap my dead body?

Sweet dreams, kids!

Recently, in an attempt to recapture the meaning behind ritual, I found myself listening intently to what is perhaps the most beloved children’s hymn of all time. It was being sung by an angelic, smiling child in church.

Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak yet He is strong
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so

Simple words and a simple melody with a simple message. Beautiful and timeless. But I was struck by something.

For most of us, it’s just not true.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying Jesus dislikes children. And I’m certainly not saying we should remove the song from the hymnal. What I am saying is most of us don’t know Christ’s love because of words we read in the Bible. No. Christ’s love is something beyond explanation that we have experienced in the flesh.

And this is where I have noticed a troubling trend. Or maybe it’s always been there. But I fear that it’s slowly becoming a ritual.

We’re worshipping the Bible at the expense of Jesus.

Christians today, myself included, recite scripture to illuminate some truth that we feel deep in our bones, hoping others might feel Christ’s love leap from the page and capture their hearts. Unfortunately, when we do this, we lock Jesus inside the Bible. Forgetting that the Bible is a book full of words.

And words can be troublesome.

Consider these “inspirational” words from a religious book that shall remain nameless. These texts were behind the killing of thousands on our soil and overseas.

Make ready to slaughter [the infidel’s] sons for the guilt of their fathers; Lest they rise and posses the earth, and fill the breadth of the world with tyrants.1

Then I heard [God] say to the other men, “Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all – old and young, girls and women and little children.”2

Cursed is he who does [God’s] work deceitfully, cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood.3

As we read these words, our thoughts likely turn to 9/11 and the horrific tragedy that affected the world. Our hearts also go out to those in the Middle East tormented by ISIS. But there’s just one problem.

These scriptures are from our own Bible.

And there are hundreds more like them. Literally. Hundreds.

When I look to The Good Book for examples of God’s love and forgiveness, I also encounter words of God’s wrath and judgment. It’s confusing and contradictory. But no matter how hard I thump on my Bible, these scriptures just won’t fall out and leave only sunshine and rainbows behind.

The fact is, Christians throughout history have used the words of the Bible as a weapon to justify some horrible atrocities in the name of love. From the victimization of Native Americans to the Spanish Inquisition. And while only Christian extremists would justify such actions today, we also have to acknowledge that many of us, myself included, lift verses out of context to serve our own agenda. Leaning toward the side of judgment and away from the side of love.

But that’s when we must remember that many of the words we read today are the same ones Jesus pondered and prayed over. Ritually. And His life was a perfect testament to the idea that we should let words inspire and inform us, but when we are truly connected to God, it’s our actions that do the teaching.

Christ himself saved his wrath and judgment for the righteous. The ones who were caught up in living life by The Book yet ignoring the image of God standing before them in human form. Born of God, He understood the basic premise that humanity would never truly experience the love of God unless humans learned to give that love. Freely. Without condition.

Word made flesh.

The gospel of John tells us:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And later, the writer recounts Jesus’ arrival

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1-5, 14 NIV)

And here we have all the illogical contradictions of the Bible summed up in the most beautiful logic problem ever. The Word = God. God = Life. Life = Light And this light exists in all of mankind. Made real through the example of Jesus Christ.

And for most of us, this love isn’t the result of some lines in a children’s song or words in The Book. We know the love of Christ because some human, flesh and blood, filled with light, has shown us this love and light in our darkest hour. They have ventured out beyond what is reasonable to demonstrate to us that God is alive in each and every one of us.

So today my prayer is that I can create a new ritual. Bringing the Word to life by showing others the love of Christ. With uncommon compassion and selfless service. For the broken and blessed. For the sinner and the saint. Pouring out my life like a song until all God’s children know every word.

By heart.

  1. Isaiah 14:21 NAB 2. Ezekiel 9:5 NLT 3. Jeremiah 48:10 NKJV

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “The Hidden Danger In Our Favorite Hymn

  1. Kaye

    I disagree that we have locked Jesus in a book. Jesus is the word that ends our confusion about the Father. The Word is not on a page but in our living n in our loving.

  2. Reblogged this on My Freedom Wall and commented:
    “We’re worshipping the Bible at the expense of Jesus.”

  3. Catherine

    It helps to NOT take the Biblical words out of context but to read it in it’s complete form, day after day. This is how the word becomes alive in us and we see God in ALL of HIS glory. We may well be the only Bible people ever read but in order for us to be that living word, we need to read it, pray over it, and humble ourselves before it. The Daily Walk Bible does a good job of moving one through the complete Bible in a year. What I have learned through this practice is to see God as He is not what I would like Him to be. After all, are we made in His image or are we making Him in our own? If we wish Him different than He is rather than wrestle with who He is, then we are creating him in our image and I believe that is Idolatry.

  4. Checkpoint: have we made an idol out of the Bible?

  5. Catherine

    Floydbc- With all due respect; if the Bible is not our source of knowledge about the depth and breath of God, then pray tell what Is? People of all denominations and faith ( both Jewish and Christian have been studying it (the Jews for 4000 years) We have still not plumbed its depths. If you have never read it in its entirety, then it is difficult to make a judgement about it….

    • Charlie Palmgren

      The Bible is a “source book,” but it is not the only source. The Holy Spirit is a lving source for “knowing God” directly in our daily lives. Bibliolatry occurs when we rely too heavily on our own intellect and belief systems.

  6. Scott, you are a genius. I am so glad to hear you’ve done a book about your Year Without a Purchase. I have used it as an example when I speak to people about Thanksgiving and Black Friday. I usually pair it with a showing of Madame Blueberry and buying too much stuff.
    And, yes, you have a couple of pithy quotes here about the bible. All good stuff.

  7. Scott, this post captures my experience – which was so different from what I was taught – actually what I witnesed in others. In some sense, I believe I was naive in facing the world as I matured – since I was raised in a believing household – my father a Lutheran minister. However, my childish interpretation lasted into adulthood – God was a sort of Santa Claus – yet it wasn’t until my life “wasn’t working anymore” that I surrendered as a result of the “gift of desperation”. Then I actually EXPERIENCED a loving Higher Power through the examples of others – imperfect beings like myself. When I truly experience this God of my misunderstanding, I have the same feeling I had as a child when I heard and sang “Jesus loves me”. Often I have to go back to that simple view of my Higher power and experience once again how i felt as a child when I had absolute faith that Jesus loved me. In “recovery” we have a saying loosely translated – “your example (what you actually do) may be the only copy of the Big Book someone sees”. Wish I could live that completely every day but when I feel the absence of my Higher Power, guess who moved?” Thank you, Scott, you write from your heart to mine. Martha

  8. Brenton

    The historian in me can’t help but note that the first several generations of Christians spread their word entirely without the bible. On a completely separate note, that “if I die before I wake” thing totally messed up my mother when she was a kid, and she stills talks about how she’d shiver in her bed trying to stay awake all night…

  9. Catherine

    Brenton and Charlie – I would like to add to both of your thoughts for a deeper discussion. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to make us living stones…. the living temple where God dwells. Pretty powerful and humbling stuff actually. Historically the 1st century Jewish believers used the complete writings of the Torah and the Prophets to show Jesus as Messiah. Most of the New Testament (which those first century believers wrote) is actually OT writings explained. So, historically, they were using scripture and abundantly at that! I encourage all to consider reading and meditating on it. It is a very concrete way to get to know the living God in all of His facets and Glory. “Open my eyes, that I might behold wondrous things from your word.” That is my point really: to dance with Him in Spirit and Truth….I have enjoyed this blog! Thank you Scott!

  10. Elna Hoffman

    Thank you. I started reading your blog about 4 months ago. I love what you write. This piece is really true, I am going to reread it, slower. We all know the Bible is written on hundreds of different levels for various levels of understanding. I was raised in many different churches, and I have even started several. My family is Christian Mystics. We blend everything together for our lives. Please look to Swedenborg, he had a grip but not quite the whole story; The Urantia tells the most. You can order the Urantia on Amazon. Someone has even put out a Readers Digest version. Now I am reading a group of book with subliminal messages…mind blowing, amazing. I have reaised 5 children, helped with 12 grandchildren and now we are working on 8 great grandchildren. I have been married to one person for 52 years and we are learning together. Happy reading. Please keep writing!!!

  11. I love this blog thanks – so true and so inspirational.
    Last year, a few months after my teenage daughter had died of a cancer related illness, I was helping at Girl’s Brigade when we sang “Away in a Manger”.
    When it came to this verse I thought that my heart was going to break.

    Bless all the dear children
    In Thy tender care
    And take us to heaven
    To live with Thee there.

    Thankfully I managed to regain my composure, later that evening I blogged about it:

    https://victoriawhyte.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/away-in-a-manger/

  12. Thanks for sharing your story, Victoria. It is incredibly powerful. And allows us to see something so very familiar through new eyes – your eyes – sharing in your grief and giving thanks for those closest to us. Peace to you. -Scott

  13. This whole concept of “Idolizing” the Bible is tied up in the example of a person who falls in love and has a relationship with a wonderful person, but spends his time reading all the love letters she wrote so he can get to “know her better”. I know a person who wasn’t allowed to read a Bible; he parents were stoutly against it. In that time God (Jesus?) (the Holy Spirit) put truth into her mind and heart. When she finally got to read the scriptures, she found the author had taught her already. Why rely on the words when we have a relationship with the author?

  14. Charlie Palmgren

    Reading the scriptures is fine, but clearly there is a great deal of disparity in all of the different interpretations. Without the Holy Spirit to guide our interpreting it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to know which interpretation is of God. Having strong opinions and emotions does not provide such assurance.

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