THE BLOG

The Bible for Non-religious People, Part Five: Someone Else's Words to Shout or Sing

20/01/2014 11:44 GMT | Updated 15/03/2014 09:59 GMT

There are times when we need someone else's words to express ourselves.

It might be that something's left us speechless -- it's just too tragic or complex or wonderful for us to know what to say.

('Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone...' -- W.H. Auden)

It might be that someone else simply says it better -- we know what we mean, but their turn of phrase is pithier, punchier or more elegant.

('Be the change that you wish to see in the world' -- Mahatma Gandhi)

It might be that someone else's words will help our own to carry more weight -- the more diverse voices echo a similar refrain, the more people might hear it.

('Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe' -- Albert Einstein)

In all these regards, the Bible can function in the same way as your favourite novel, poem, movie script or soundbite-friendly pop scientist.

You don't have to consider yourself religious to find words in the Bible that give voice to something you're struggling to say yourself.

For example: you don't need to have resolved the question of a god's existence to be furiously angry with one's apparent absence or indifference:

'how long shall I cry for help,

and you will not hear?

Or cry to you "Violence!"

and you will not save?

Why do you make me see iniquity,

and why do you idly look at wrong?'

(Habakkuk 1, ESV)

You don't need to subscribe to a theological doctrine of 'the fall' to wonder why we humans can sometimes be so messed up:

'Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.' (Haggai 1, ESV)

'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?' (Jeremiah 17, ESV)

or at the seeming futility of life:

'Nothing makes sense!

Everything is nonsense. I have seen it all-- nothing makes sense!

What is there to show

for all of our hard work here on this earth?

People come, and people go,

but still the world never changes.'

(Ecclesiastes 1, CEV)

You don't need to have decided what you make of Jesus to find some of his teachings resonant:

'Why, then, do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, and pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How dare you say to your brother, 'Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,' when you have a log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.'

(Matthew 7, GNB)

or to want to borrow some of his scathing remarks:

'You blind leaders! You strain out a small fly but swallow a camel.

You Pharisees and teachers are show-offs, and you're in for trouble! You wash the outside of your cups and dishes, while inside there is nothing but greed and selfishness.

You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of a cup, and then the outside will also be clean.

You Pharisees and teachers are in for trouble! You're nothing but show-offs. You're like tombs that have been whitewashed. On the outside they are beautiful, but inside they are full of bones and filth.'

(Matthew 23, CEV)

And you don't need to be a churchgoer to want to echo some of Paul's words on love:

'Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant

or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.' (1 Corinthians 13, ESV)

There are times when we go looking for someone else's words to shout or sing or sob. Don't rule the Bible out of that search -- it might have just the words you're looking for.