The interpretation of Scripture has been and always will be at the center of theological debates. For the majority of Christians, Scripture represents God's will for mankind, but the application thereof is hotly contested. In fact, some may see the differences present in Paul's letters compared to John's or Peter's as evidence that different interpretations are part of the very fabric of the Christianity handed down to us. Even the way Jesus interprets the Hebrew Scriptures is different from those of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Even though there are many different interpretations of Scripture, the majority of Christians also agree that the Scriptures ought to be applied to the Christian life.
There is no getting around that part. No amount of interpretation will translate away the necessity of biblical living without first undermining the gospel. Again, the type of biblical living will be interpreted differently, but it will nevertheless be there. As a Calvinist, I understand the whole of Scripture to be a testament to the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus isn't just limited to the four Gospels, or even just the New Testament. Both the Old Testament and the New reveal to us God's plan of salvation as culminated in His Son, Jesus. This means, when both Testaments are in agreement about something, then my attention must surely be placed therein.
I mention all this because a couple of years ago I was handed a three panel comic strip by one of my congregants. The strip is from the March 27, 2017 rendition of Soup to Nutz. Here is the comic in question: http://www.gocomics.com/soup-to-nutz/2017/03/27. I don't want to post an image of it, so I'll share the conversation the characters are having. A character, with a downtrodden face, laments to his compatriot, "The Bible says we should help the poor, but nobody does." His friend, clad in bow-tie and plaid pants, responds, "The Bible is like a software license...nobody actually reads it...they just scroll to the bottom and click 'I agree.'" When I was handed this little strip of paper, I glanced quickly at it and then pocketed it away. Sunday morning is not the best time to expect a full-blown theological conversation, especially when mingling in the church foyer. After I got home, I took out this little comic strip, read through it, and quickly tossed it in the recycling bin. Well, after a moment of thinking about it, I decided to withdraw the paper from the bin and return it to my desk for further analysis.
Now, I do want to say I totally understand the sentiment that this comic is getting across and I totally understand why the parishioner handed it to me. It's true, there are Christians in the world today who don't attend to the needs of the poor and outcast. It's true that at times in Church history, Christians were, and sometimes still are, hostile to some people. I totally get it! We do need to do a better job of helping those in need. And the little character is right. The Bible does say, as witnessed in both Testaments, that we are to attend to the widows and orphans and exhibit hospitality and charity.
What frustrates me most is that this comic completely misunderstands Scripture. There's a misconception out there that Jesus Christ and his followers are simply do-gooders. Dictionary.com defines do-gooders as "well-intentioned but naive and often ineffectual social or political reformers." Now, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of do-gooders out there. And sometimes the good they do is actually a good thing. The difference is, do-gooding is not what the Bible is about.
There are tons of commands throughout Scripture. You have the Ten Commandments. You have the 613 Mosaic Laws. You have Prophetic Laws, which were geared toward returning wayward Israel to following the Mosaic Law. You have the Commands of Christ preserved in the Gospels. You have the Apostolic Laws lay out by Paul, Peter, and in the other Epistles of the New Testament. All of these laws can be sorted into two main categories, laws concerning our relationship to God and laws concerning our relationship to one another. The quickest and easiest way to see this is through the traditional understanding of the two Tables of the Law. The first four Commandments (don't have other gods, don't worship idols, don't take the Lord's name in vain, keep the Sabbath holy) teach us what our relationship to God should look like. The final six (honor of parents, don't kill, don't commit adultery, don't steal, don't lie, don't covet) teach us what our relationship to one another should look like. Jesus summarizes this in his response to some Temple elites when they ask him what is the greatest commandment. Christ responds, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (See: Deut. 6:4-5; Lev. 19:17-18; Mt. 22:35-40; Mk. 12:28-31; Lk. 10:25-28.)
The little comic strip misunderstands that the Bible is plainly clear that one without the other is impossible. Both our vertical relationship with God and our horizontal relationships with others are to be aligned and maintained. A person who loves God without acts of kindness and service to others is falling short of God's own commands. A person who loves others without an ounce of glory and honor to God does no true good for himself or for others. Both are necessary, but one naturally precedes the other. Like I said, I understand the sentiment presented in Soup to Nutz, what the author misses is that a true love for God must first exist before acts of service can truly be produced. I can't speak for the entire Christian community, so I won't say whether or not every Christian is in right relationship with God. I can say, the artist missed an opportunity to tell the world that the Christian life is made up of both the path to holiness and the path of kindness. Instead, the artist decided to take the path of alienation and satire.