Young Christians are often told that the Bible has the answers for all of our questions. Any question we raise to our parents, pastors, and teachers might very well be met with the answer, "Well, the Bible says...."
But if we open up the Bible and attempt to ask it specific questions like...
- What do I do when people are bullying me on social media?
- What movies should I avoid watching?
- Is global warming real, and what could I do about it?
...and it would suddenly seem like the Bible is silent and unrelated to the issues we face in our modern world.
Given that the world we live in today can seem so far removed from the world of the Bible, how are we supposed to even follow the instructions in scripture? How can we apply the Bible to our lives today if the world we live in is seemingly nothing like their world?
These are tricky questions, but there are a few ways to answer them.
The Bible is not a rule book.
The Bible is less like a list of rules to follow, and more like a story to learn from. Yes, you can find some clear and direct guidelines in the Bible, but the majority of it is full of stories of real people who are struggling to follow God and to understand what he wants them to do. They come across unique situations, times, and places, and either succeed or fail - just like we do today. We have our humanity in common with the people in the Bible, and so it's possible to find their struggles very relatable.
Through the stories and perspectives of these imperfect characters - like David, Esther, the Disciples, and Paul - we can gain wisdom and principles to help us figure out what steps to take in our own lives. See what you think of the choices that characters in the Bible make, and then compare yourself to them. Did they do the right thing? Did they make a terrible mistake? Are there situations you have faced that might be similar in some ways?
2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (NLT)
Look for principles, not direct instructions.
Not every question we may have has a clear, direct answer. The Bible won't tell you "this is the school you should attend," "Go to this party but not to that one," or other things like that. But we can arrive at helpful, practical answers by looking for God's wisdom. Situations in the Bible may be different than the ones we face today, but there are principles that can apply in any situation.
So you can pray for God's guidance, then read the scriptures, ask for advice and guidance from trustworthy people in your life, and occasionally sprinkle a bit of good old common sense on top, and before you know it, you end up with wisdom that works for your life right now.
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” [James 1:5]
If God told us exactly how to deal with every problem, decision, and thought in our lives, everything would already be decided for us, without our own freedom to choose. There would be no need for us to grow in our understanding of the world around us, or ourselves. Without wrestling with things ourselves, our faith would become hollow and empty, just an echo of facts and rules.
Putting it into practice.
Let's see how putting these guidelines into practice can help us make seemingly irrelevant scriptures livable.
In the book of 2 Samuel, there is a story where David's son Absalom starts a rebellion against his own father, and David is forced to flee for his life. While we are used to thinking of David as "the good guy," he does some things during this story that seem questionable: he sends some of his advisers to lie to Absalom and to give him confusing and contradictory advice, he puts several women directly in harm's way, and his son ends up getting killed in the ensuing conflict.
It would be hard to say that anyone in the story is a perfectly good role model to follow, and the story itself does not give the reader any direct commandments. However, there are some principles we can gain:
- Absalom gets killed as a result of his rebellion. The army that defeated him was his father's army. Even though Absalom's death meant David's life would be spared, the King still wept bitterly for the death of his son. From this we can see that family conflicts can be very complicated, and that people who love each other may sometimes still end up in conflict.
- During his time running away, David wrote Psalm 3, a song expressing his fear of being killed, and his hope that the LORD will protect him. Once Absalom as died, we see David brokenhearted and weeping for his son. Through all of it, David is honest about his emotions and is transparent with God and people about how he is feeling. We may learn that it is ok for us to be emotionally vulnerable in this way as well.
- However, we also observe that many of the soldiers and supporters who helped David escape and survive feel offended and hurt when David is weeping uncontrollably for the man who was trying to kill him. Here we might appreciate how David was grateful to the people who helped him, even when things don't end up going the way he wanted them to go.
- In 2 Samuel 19:18-23, David has to confront some of the people who opposed him and conspired against him during Absalom's rebellion - especially a man named Shimei. While many of David's advisers want David to take vengeance on Shimei, David goes against the wishes of the crowd and shows him mercy. In this instance, David did something that we should admire and emulate. David isn't always a good example, but every so often he does something that we can copy. Forgiving our enemies is a core principle for Christians, and is reinforced by David's descendant, Jesus.
Some of those applications are a bit indirect and roundabout, and they are not necessarily the main point of the story. The overarching story in 1 & 2 Samuel is about how God led his people through the ups and downs of their political turmoil, and how God kept his plan to save the world moving forward despite the failures of his people.
However, reading the story in relation to our own lives can reveal some interesting applications. At the start of this blog, we raised the question "what should I do when people are bullying me on social media?" From the story of David in 2 Samuel, we learn that it is important to forgive the people who hurt us and to remember the humanity of our enemies, but also that it is ok sometimes to run away from danger and to ask for help from the people around us. Is it indirect? Yes, in some ways it is. But we can learn from the people in the Bible by comparing our situations to theirs. We learn by seeing what the story presents as admirable behavior and as reprehensible behavior.
The Bible is not an ancient rule book. The Bible is a dynamic story that shows us who God really is. And as we try to reflect His character, the bible becomes useful in our actual lives, today.
- What Bible character do you relate to the most? Whose story has given you clear guiding principles that you have applied to your life?
- Is there are Bible story or passage that you have found useful in making choices?
- Regarding insults and "beefing" on social media, or at school: Read 1 Peter 3:8-17. What principles can we learn from this passage about interpersonal conflicts? What is the right Christian response?
- What does this passage say about having a clear conscience? What does that mean?
- How is this way of dealing with conflict related to the death of Jesus?
- We raised the question earlier: what kind of movies should I watch? Let's compare some scriptures.
- First, read Philippians 4:8-9. What principles can we gain here? What kinds of things should you focus your mind on?
- Second, read Exodus 20:1-17, the Ten Commandments. Should you engage with media that contradicts or de-values God's most basic moral principles?
- Third, read Ecclesiastes 7:1-4. Philippians 4 told us to focus on noble, positive things, but are those the only kinds of things we should think about? Is there room to reflect on negative feelings and thoughts?
- Fourth, read Ecclesiastes 3:1-13. When it comes to the harder parts of life, should we be naive and sheltered, or informed and mature?
- Fifth, look at all the principles you gained from the last four readings. Do they seem contradictory, or can you find a way to fit them all together? What overall picture do you get from these seemingly different pieces of information from scripture?
- Look at the two issues we just addressed above. Are the pasages directly related to the issues we asked questions about? If not, how did we go about applying what the scripture actually said to our current-day situations? Can you think of other areas in life where these principles might apply?