Burning the Bible

             Recently, I burned a couple of Bibles.

             What? you may think. Is Pastor Anglin losing his religion, desecrating the holy Word of God?

             Actually, no. Burning is one of the proper ways of disposing of a Bible that has reached the end of its journey. (The other is burial). It’s the same with the American flag–when a flag is no longer usable, it’s appropriate to burn it. Ironically, of course, burning is sometimes used to show contempt and hatred toward the Bible or the flag. So burning can be an act of devotion or an act of desecration. What determines the meaning is the context. (It’s kind of the same with insults. A friend can call you a derogatory name and you see it as a sign of affection–“Dave, you old so and so.” But if a stranger calls you the same name, your back goes up. Context is what makes the difference).

             The two Bibles I burned were waterlogged from Hurricane Sandy. I waited quite a while to burn them, so that they could thoroughly dry. Even after months of drying, they resisted the flames-- I discovered how very hard it is to burn something intentionally! There’s an irony to that, too: an accidental fire spreads at a terrifying rate, but when you try to burn something, it’s amazingly difficult (as I discover every time I try to fire up my charcoal grill). That, I think, is a manifestation of original sin–the fallen world always gives us some resistance and tries to thwart our plans (As God said to Adam after Adam sinned: “Thorns and thistles shall the ground bring forth...”- Genesis 3:18. Nothing in this imperfect world is easy!) I started out with some wadded up newspaper as kindling–the fire barely dented the Bibles. Then I deployed charcoal lighter fluid. I think I added lighter fluid at least five times! I actually took to flipping pages individually with a stick to set them afire.

             But at other times the fire itself moved the pages, as it consumed one page and turned the Book to another. Almost as if the fire itself was reading the blessed, saving Word of God.

             The rising smoke called to mind the sacrifices of the Old Testament–the burnt offerings of sheep and goats and cattle and birds, and the fragrant incense that constantly burned in the Temple. Smoke rising to heaven represents the prayers and the devotion of God’s people rising into His presence. “Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice (Psalm 141:2 ). I actually started my Bible burning at dusk, so this Bible verse was appropriate. (The total time to burn two Bibles was two hours. In the morning, I checked the fire pit–and not a single sign of a Bible remained. Nothing but ashes. I felt I had accomplished my mission!)

             Of course, book burning has a creepy resonance–it harks back to the destruction of the great library of Alexandria in the seventh century, or the conflagration that devoured the library at the University of Louvain during World War I, or the Nazi pyres that consumed many volumes. It also made me think of a novel I read in high school, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, about a totalitarian future where firemen start fires in order to burn books. So I kept having to tell myself: You are doing a good thing! You are retiring these volumes of God’s Word in an appropriate way. (When the books were almost completely gone, it suddenly crossed my mind: Johann Sebastian Bach’s personal Bible, with handwritten notes, was discovered at a farmhouse in Minnesota by a visiting pastor. I should have checked these Bibles to make sure they never belonged to anyone famous! Ah, well. Too late!)

             But then another aspect of Fahrenheit 451 occurred to me. In the novel, there is a resistance group that tries to keep the great books of the world alive in a time when books were banned. So each member of the group memorizes one of the great books. So a person becomes, in effect, a walking book! And how beautiful it would be if we came to know the Bible so well that, in effect, we become a walking Bible (sort of like Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli). Maybe not by memorizing Scripture word for word–but by internalizing its teachings, and drenching ourselves in its message. Then if (God forbid!) the Bible were ever banned, we could still be strengthened by its truth.

             Before I set about my burning, I said a prayer. I thanked God for these Bibles and all the ways in which they had touched people’s lives. And I also praised God that His Word endures - that the saving Gospel of Christ crucified and risen is everlasting. Even though these particular Bibles had reached the end of their road, God’s Word never passes away. “The flower fades, the grass withers, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 ).

             God loves you and so do I!

Vol. 84 - No. 8
Aug 2013