HOW WE USE SACRED BOOKS

Posted on July 26, 2008

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In my boyhood, being afraid of the dark growing up in a new village which did not have electricity supply, I had thought that placing a copy of the bible beside my pillow would do the trick. That is, give protection and provide coverage for the long night especially after having inadvertently heard some ghost stories. Not that I was a Christian then but if not the bible what? We didn’t have Buddhist or Taoist texts handy at home for that purpose. So when I became a Christian, the habit persisted and for the rest of my youth even in young adulthood, the bible remained my night companion. At that phase in life, I sometimes thought that with the bible within viewing distance, I might be less likely to commit sin.

With the introduction of television and Hollywood movies especially the law series with a lot of courtroom action, the bible took on another utility. Those westerners were shown to be taking their oath of truth with one hand lifted and the other placed on a copy of the bible as in “Do you solemnly swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?”

By then I was doing a lot of bible study and the bible took on a different role in my life. It became a treasure book of historical anecdotes, wisdom, inspiration and guidance for doctrine and practical living. Without bible knowledge I would have no foundation for faith and life. Like physical exercise, regular bible study is indispensable to develop and maintain spiritual health.

By this process, I came to understand something about the uses of sacred books. At best the use of the bible in the courtroom or in oath-taking during induction into public office in America can only be symbolic. The bible is sacred in the sense that it reveals God’s will and wisdom. But it does not possess any supernatural powers of its own. Its presence beside my pillow at night prevents nothing as such. Such supernatural roles of giving protection and the like are performed only by God himself.

To swear an oath placing one’s hand on the bible does not guarantee that one is necessarily telling the whole truth. The more important reality to stress and insist upon is that my oath (say of marriage) is made in the presence of God who is present as a witness and who will hold me to my pledge. Thus the degree of honesty of any oath-taking is dependent on personal sincerity and a person’s fear of God rather than our hand on a mere book. By the mere act of my swearing on a bible, those who have legitimate grievances against me could draw little comfort or assurance since my swearing on a bible is a very easy thing for me to do. All it requires is a functioning limb rather than a functioning conscience.

To be sure, because of what the bible contains and reveals, I maintain a healthy respect for it and do not treat it like I would ordinary books by throwing it on the ground or sit on it or in any way do irreverent things with it. (I would baulk at killing a mosquito with the bible, for instance.) But if indeed we consider a book sacred, then the best way to demonstrate that is to take its revelation and writings as of highest importance and the best way to show it respect is to read, understand and obey its instructions as a mark of respect for its Author.

Regarding the mere act of swearing or oath-taking, the bible reveals these sayings of Christ in his sermon on the mount:

Matthew 5.33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be “Yes, Yes’ or “No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

This was echoed by the apostle James elsewhere in the bible:

James 5:12Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.”

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Posted in: Perspective