This is part one of a discussion of why it is reasonable to apply the Bible to modern life.
I recently engaged in dialogue with a friend who made some serious and legitimate statements. He considered it unreasonable for people to believe that a collection of documents written 2000+ years ago should have any bearing or influence on life, and particularly policy, in a modern 21st Century world.
Of course, he was talking about the Bible.
The person raising the point is not a believer (self-proclaimed) and from that doesn’t believe the Bible to bear any authority in his life. But I do believe that.
The issue is legitimate. Why should anyone think that documents written so long ago, to a totally different culture, lifestyle, educational and technological level should have any bearing on life today?
That’s a great question. However at the heart of this question are some assumptions.
1. They were ignorant
2. They were superstitious
3. They were simple-minded for simple lives
4. They had no understanding of modern science, medicine, technology etc…
5. They are outdated
On the Flip Side
1. We’ve Changed
2. We’re Not Like That
3. We’ve Improved
4. We Know Better
5. We’re Superior
6. We’re not Limited like they were
Can you tell the question ultimately stems from an exalted view of our modern sense of superiority? It’s based out of pride and assumptions of superiority.
But that is a bit of a fallacy. I fully expect that in 100-200 years the people then will look at us the same way we do them. Does that mean we are not smart, not capable of understanding our situation? Of course not. Wouldn’t you be insulted to hear the future’s opinion of us today? Of course you would.
The fact of the matter is that we have not changed nearly as much as we think.
Sure our technological toys are more advanced—but all of our technology fulfills the same needs that they had then—they’ve just become more complicated and/or expensive. Our modern inventions are only addressing age old necessities.
· Cell Phones, Satellites, email & text messaging – address needs of communication of information faster than hand carried letters or word of mouth messengers. Strangely, most people then only had to hear a message once or twice in order to memorize it. Today we have the attention span of a gnat (Twitter) and can barely remember the names of our friends, our phone number or social security number. How is this an improvement? In the same way, can anyone really say our writing quality, style and vocabulary has improved?
· Cars, Airplanes, Ships – issues of transportation for travel or cargo--we still use wheels, right? We have improved the speed and reliability of this need. A trip that would take them months takes us a day. And yet I don’t think they had to deal with Jet-lag and I doubt their travel had the same environmental impact of our modern efforts. What would we go back to if we got rid of Big Oil driven machines again?
· Medicine-- Surgery & Antibiotics, etc… - they got sick then too. We have vastly improved things in this category but we’re still meeting the same need. Given their circumstances, I’d wager they were far more familiar with sickness and disease and loss than we are today in our sterilized & sanitized world with relatively quick cures, quick pill ability. It is strange however to consider that many of the remedies that they used then are still in use today and are sometimes a better form of treatment. For those of you who lean toward alternative medicines & treatments, realize you’re saying that the old ways of treating sickness and disease are better than the modern. Acupuncture is not a modern invention.
· Farming – sure our tractors and fertilizers and genetic improvements have improved yields—but keep in mind that they grew more varieties (a lot of ag scientists are really beginning to worry about this), in more less than ideal conditions than we do. Remember we did not invent irrigation, nor the plow, nor domesticate the crops we use in the first place. Also remind me again why Organic is gaining popularity?
· Television & Movies – we are more visual but we’re fulfilling the entertainment need. They listened to stories passed down from generations. They learned family history, they talked together. Their entertainment better brought people together in fellowship and shared knowledge. Our entertainment spreads us out to where we are all watching a different show on a different TV or computer. Is it any wonder that families are torn apart?
· Sports – yeah, football is pretty awesome, but they had sports then as well with very grand arenas and large audiences—they invented the Coliseum/Stadium we just made them bigger—though the bleacher seat is still uncomfortable—why haven’t we improved that? With the growing popularity of MMA fighting does anyone else think we’re regressing to a gladiator form of entertainment? How long will it be before the matches are to the death? I think there’s a large population that would watch and pay for it.
· Education & Science – in the United States we are attempting to educate more people and likely have a greater percentage of literate citizens that in most of recorded history. But our education system is falling apart (throwing money at it won’t fix it) and I do not believe we are not producing the kind of elite statesmen and women that have existed in generations past. We tend to think that people in the past were barely able to count to five and no more than 20 assuming they had all their fingers and toes. We tend to think that a lack of widespread literacy means a lot of stupid people. That is far from true. Education level does equate to intelligence or smarts—as I work customer service for college students—let me assure you that college does not equate to intelligence or even reading comprehension.
· There are more examples that I’m sure you can think of. But practically all of them will be fulfilling a function and need that existed then too.
From these examples I hope you see that the basic human needs are largely the same and all of our advanced technology are simply meeting these needs in a different way. Their concerns were the same. They needed to make a living, they cared about their family, they had to work to put food on the table, they worried about the future.
Human nature and life has not really changed… and never will no matter how advanced we get.
Which is a significant reason why it is not unreasonable to apply the Bible to modern life.
Some of our exact circumstances may have changed but human nature and the basic pursuits of life have not.
We still have families & neighbors, still have jobs, still have children. We still get angry, we are still tempted to lie or steal. We still struggle with our sexuality, still struggle with marriage and divorce, still struggle with betrayal and conflict.
The Bible speaks to all of those and more.
I am convinced that the Bible accurately describes human nature, our tendencies and our place in the universe. It describes a people that are broken and selfish. The Bible calls us to better behavior, a higher standard of ethic than our natural tendencies. Even if you do not embrace all of the theological beliefs in the Bible, the basic ethics that it calls us to will continue to be a benefit to any society.
In its most basic form, the Bible calls people to think of others more than themselves, calls people to not gratify every desire or whim that crosses their mind. That there are behaviors and practices that harm others directly and indirectly that we should avoid. The Bible calls us to a life of radical integrity, service, sacrifice and purpose.
This is part one of why it is reasonable to apply the Bible to modern life. Part two will focus on the issue of Reliability. Part 3 will cover the reliability of the documents themselves.