Why the Bible makes a Shitty Gift for Your Friend who is Hurting

Saturday, October 26, 2019

As a rule of thumb, the Bible is a shitty gift.

When I was a brand new Christian, I asked for a Bible for my birthday. I wanted a specific translation, with Christ’s words in red, and a big-enough-to-be-useful concordance in the back. On my birthday I unwrapped a beautiful leather bound Bible that met all the criteria, and that I could not have afforded on my own. It was a treasured gift. So I am not saying that the Bible is always a shitty gift. But sometimes, it is.

I recently sat with an acquaintance, in the midst of the most difficult year of her life and searching for big answers to big questions. She told me of a friend from work who had given her a beautifully wrapped bible as a response to her struggle.

She appreciated the sentiment.  And she tried to read it.  But she found it confusing and frustrating and couldn’t see how it could help her current situation. Now it collects dust on a shelf in her bedroom. Pages still crisp, still in it’s box.

No shit, Sherlock.

Does the Holy Bible contain legitimate wisdom for everyday life and devastating pains? Absolutely.

But friends, giving a hurting person with no church history a Bible is like putting a sick person with no medical training in a pharmacy and walking away smug because we showed them where to find their cure. Yes, technically they are surrounded by the answers to their problem.  But how are they supposed to know which one is going to help them, or how to apply it?

Somehow we got the idea that the bible is our Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. But it isn’t basic. And most of it isn’t instruction. The bible is an ancient and complicated text full of symbolism and depth, re-emerging themes and inherent contradictions. Even those with years of training and experience on how to read and interpret it still wrestle with it. It is not a balm for whatever ails you.
When we give people a Bible as if it were a cookbook, with step-by-step instructions for whatever difficulty they face, we invite them into one of 2 erroneous ideas:

A) That there is something wrong with them because they can’t just pick up this diverse and ancient text and read it like a novel.  Nobody can. Not well.


b) That the bible has no meaningful application for their life today. Which only seems true because we offered them zero tools to make sense of an ancient text.

There is a better way.

I belong to a 12 Step fellowship. We have a basic text that is 80 years old and sometimes a little tricky to understand.  When you join, if you are serious about getting well, someone sits down with you and goes through the text page by page.  They make space for your questions and teach you how to apply its instructions.  If people attempt to do this work on their own, we warn them that they are headed down a dangerous road.  That it is much better to journey through the text with a fellow traveler.

But in the church we do the opposite.  And with a far more ancient text that wasn’t even written in our language.  We drop a bible in front of them, shame them into spending 30 minutes a day with it, and tell them that if they cant understand the inspired word of God on their first go, there is something wrong with them.

So friends, can we please stop giving bibles as gifts to people who are suffering?
Can we stop prescribing an ancient text that has taken most of us a decade of study to even begin to really understand as if it is a balm for every wound?

Could we stop wrapping up bibles as an excuse not to actually walk with people through the difficulties of life? Can we give instead truly life-giving gifts, such as our time, our attention, our listening ear? Can we open our homes and our hearts to people who are suffering? Can we walk with the wounded?

Just to be clear, here is what I am not saying:

I am not saying you shouldn’t give your friend that nice leather bound red letter bible she has been eyeing for some time but wouldn’t buy for herself. That sounds like a great gift.

I am not saying we can’t leave new testaments in hotel drawers and doctors offices. (Although surely there are more personal ways to reach out.)

I am not saying that churches shouldn’t make Bibles available to new believers and seekers.
In fact, I gave crisp pink Bibles to my own twin daughters at their recent baptism. There are appropriate times to gift someone a bible.

What I am saying is this:

The bible is not an instruction manual for navigating suffering. It is not Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. If we are giving away Bibles to people in distress without offering to walk with them through what it means, or walk meaningfully with them through their difficulties in practical ways, we are just doing it to make ourselves feel better.

And that, friends, is a really shitty reason to give a gift.

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