Proverbs 14:15 MSG
I'm a preacher. Have been for about 35 years, now.
I tend to think in terms of scripture. I'm not a fundamentalist. I don't believe that every word of the Bible was dictated by God to be taken literally by every human soul who ever reads it in any time or place. It doesn't mean I want America to be a theocracy. It just means that scripture, especially the red letters of the New Testament, is the lens through which I tend to view the world. So it's only natural that I, occasionally, quote scripture when talking about politics, or economics, or art, or life, or whatever.
Some people are offended by those quotes. They call it cherry picking the Bible. But all quotes from scripture are not cherry picking.
If you have read the text and studied to determine its original historical setting... If you have compared the different translations and worked to discover the geographical location in which it was written and the one for which it was written, the audience, the purpose, the intent of the writer… If you have considered the literary context, if you have done all of this and determined that your situation or your problem, or your issue, is a comparable one… And you have determined that the text is illustrative or illuminative, and you quote that text, then you have engaged in exegesis (reading from) and that is a responsible and appropriate approach to the text.
If, on the other hand, you have formed an opinion based on some other data, some other philosophy, some other consideration, and then you go to the Bible to find a verse or a story or a quote that, lifted out of all of its contexts, seems to support you’re a priori opinion and you use that quote to support your opinion, that is cherry picking, or what scholars call, eisegesis (reading into), and what preachers call “proof texting.”
Cherry picking, or proof texting, or eisegesis, whatever you want to call it, is irresponsible, unethical, inappropriate, inauthentic, immoral, illegal, and fattening.
There are so many stories like this one floating around the internet that this one may very well be apocryphal but, be that as it may, I know that it is true.
It’s about the famous anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who was studying a group of remote Pacific Islanders. The small tribe lived in horrible poverty managing to eke out a rudimentary survival and their diet consisted almost solely of the fish they caught from the ocean and some sweet potatoes that they grew.
They were undernourished and illness seemed to be an ever present reality for them.
Yet, they also seemed quite content and happy.
Once a week they would gather driftwood and dead wood from the island and they would build a huge bonfire. They would bring out some beer they had made from the sweet potatoes and some drums and they would drink and dance until everyone had passed out or gone home, usually around dawn.
Mead asked the village elder how it was that, living in such poverty and squalor, they could be so happy that every week they would throw a party and dance the night away.
The elder answered, “We do not dance because we are happy. We are happy because we dance.”
Sometimes God calls upon us to do things not because the doing of them is fun, easy, or even effective. Sometimes God calls upon us to do things because doing them is the right thing to do. Sometimes we are called to fight the fight that cannot be won and treat the illness that cannot be cured.
As we moved through the holidays many of us probably found ourselves doing things that we didn’t necessarily want to do but we did them because it was the right thing to do. We visited elderly family or church members who didn’t even remember who we were and wouldn’t remember five minutes after we left. But we did it because it was the right thing to do.
We hosted parties and went to school programs and wrapped gifts and cooked special meals and spent more money than we intended to spend not because we were all gung-ho about doing any of these things but because, as it turned out, they were the right things to do.
It’s the same in the community and the church. We take on tasks that don’t excite us but need to be done. So we do them because doing them is the right thing to do.
The only question is not whether we should do these “right things,” but how do we know when a thing is the right thing to do? How do we know that, in doing these things, we will “fulfill all righteousness,” as Jesus put it to John the Baptist.
Well, that one, it turns out, is pretty simple.
We know when a thing is the right thing to do because it harmonizes with the red letters in our Bible. We know it’s the right thing to do because it’s something Jesus would have done. We know when it’s the right thing to do because God says so – in the scriptures, in the still small voice that comes to us in our moments of thought and reflection, in the sudden epiphany or the long sought after answer, in the voices of friends and family, in the witness of the historic church, and through our own faith experience.
Dean Feldmeyer is the author of 5 novels, 4 non-fiction books, three plays, and over 100 essays, articles, poems, and short stories, some of which can be found on this web site.