The Unchanging Nature of Scripture in a Rapidly Changing World

Posted on March 8, 2014


There is an old saying here in Alabama—and I suspect it is true of many other places—that if you don’t like the weather, just wait a bit. It will change.

Just about the same thing can be said of any electronic gadgetry in our lives, from cell phones to apps for our computers. I can guarantee, whatever it is will be upgraded, changed, discarded and replaced within twelve months of the time you discovered it. What was true and “personal device” gospel this week, will be trash next month, discarded, and thrown into the junk heap.

If you don’t like learning something new, sometimes with “steep learning curves,” a fancy new colloquialism for “hard,” then you will rapidly fall behind the fast moving edges of technology and be consigned to the dinosaur heap, having to call your children or grandchildren just to turn on the new television set whose screen covers your entire wall. This high definition screen is very impressive, but useless if you can’t change channels, presuming you get a relative to show you how to turn it on.

The same goes for the frontiers of morality and lifestyles. They are changing so fast that my head spins and I sometimes feel like Rip Van Winkle. Rip fell asleep before the American Revolution and woke up a few years later, the subject now of the new United States rather than good old King George III. It was a shocking change.

In my youth and early years, every one married before they had children. It was the thing to do. Today, 41% of all children are born out of wedlock, and I really don’t think the parents care to be married. It’s too old fashioned and kind of stifling to be tied down that way. So almost half of the children born in this country are bastards, a very old fashioned term that sounds awful, and judgmental, but it does speak to the issue, and often the consequences.

When I was twenty two I graduated from college and went into the service, in my case commissioned a shiny new Ensign courtesy of NROTC. Most of my friends went into service it seemed. There was no draft in 1964, but it would soon be reinstituted during the growing Vietnam War. I grew up quite a bit while in service, and just about everyone my generation who served feels the same way.

By contrast, where I worked in the History Department at the University, I and one other colleague about to retire who was a Marine are the last ones with a service experience. In Congress, only about twenty percent have served, and less than one percent have children in service. One has to assume that their stake in the service is smaller than those who served.

Change appears to be the one constant in our lives, which sounds like a contradiction but is in fact true. It is unsettling and destabilizing, kind of like moving to a new community, a new state, or even a new country where so much is so different. The younger you are, the easier it is to adapt. And so the millenials take change in stride. A new cell phone every year or two—an upgrade—is necessary to survive both in business and professionally, and to keep up with the mythical Joneses.

But uncertainty is also part of their culture. Even the job market appears to be shrinking. Where to find work if work itself is being redefined? Robots are taking the place of workers, the four day week is a reality, the home is once again (like in days of yore when industrial piece work was done in the home) a workplace, and the man is just as often home taking care of baby while mother—perhaps they are an old fashioned couple who actually married—brings home the bacon. Even gender identity can become an issue.

Speaking of gender, in my youth marriage was largely relegated to a union between a man and a woman, not between Steve and Gary or Regina and Kay. Marriage, in fact, was a sacrament in the Church and rules for behavior between the sexes were pretty explicit. Unions between the sexes were to bring forth children and build families based on God’s creations. This brings me to perhaps the most stable force in the universe, the Bible.

It has not changed in close to 2000 years, and I don’t expect it to change for the next gadzillion years since it is the inspired word of God and God does not change.

You certainly can believe that there are other absolutes in the universe, like the laws of physics and nature, but even those get altered occasionally. Google Albert Einstein and see how his equations upset even the basics of physics. Not everything is what it seems to be.

Politics change, laws change, customs change, habits change, and today they change in whirlwind fashion. We search our early Republic and the Constitution for constancy and order, but change was the order of the day in 1776 when a violent revolution erupted to throw off the old order.

As we face today’s world of privilege and poverty, an unpredictable climate, seemingly intransigent religious conflicts, and far too many issues to identify in our simple column, let me suggest we look to the one unchanging explanation and prescription for life, the Bible.

We have modified it occasionally in a phenomenon called the “cultural captivity of the Bible” by theologians, which means, loosely, interpreting the Bible through the prism of one’s own culture. God wants us to think, to reflect, not just too survive but to prosper and live in his will. The founding fathers may not have been “holy rollers,” or spirit-filled Christians (read Acts 2), but staid Deists (google it), but they knew nothing would prosper or survive without the hand of God in their work.

The Jeffersons and Washingtons and Hamiltons and Madisons were not perfect, but they understood some key principles from antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, etc.) and they understood everything they did came from the hand of God, even those most resistant to organized religion, like Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

And we tend to deify the writings of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers whose thinking underlay much of what went into our Constitution. But some of the ancients, like Aristotle, were dead wrong, like his claim that humankind was divided basically into two categories, those born to govern and those born to serve. Which one are you in? You get the point. That was not part of the understanding of the founding fathers—even while allowing slavery to continue—when it came to the equality of all citizens. In this they actually followed the Bible (read Galatians 3:28), not the great Philosopher, Aristotle.

And, finally, we have been given the mind of God to study, to learn, to discern, and to make wise judgments on all the issues before us, so many of which are not addressed directly in the Bible. But the underlying principles are there. Jesus told his disciples, “seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). There is no hidden meaning here. It is, as a famous football coach is fond of saying, a process to excellence. In this instance, invoke the injunction, and seek in Scripture the answers to the environment, the answers to political divisions, the answers to poverty, the answers to what work is, what wealth represents, the answers to virtually anything we are addressing as a people. It works.

Published in my column The Port Rail in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday April 20 [Easter Sunday], 2014 as Scripture a Constant in a Changing World.