As anyone becomes more involved in biblical study, the more they’ll discover the richness involved in the text, and its pervasive application to our everyday lives. What the Bible is not is an ancient text pertinent only to a remote, faraway people who lived thousands of years ago, and thousands of miles away. What it is is a universal blueprint for life in general that uses stories and symbolism to highlight trends and ideas that anybody, anywhere, can utilize in their everyday life. The Bible is written on many levels and a perfunctory analysis will only yield an elementary understanding, leaving a large wealth of knowledge undiscovered.
The fact of the matter is that there are some very basic and universal traits and dilemmas that all human beings share, and these issues have stood the test of time — hence, in 2013, the Bible’s applicability to our lives is greater than ever. It is a venerable guidebook on living an upright, moral existence. Thousands of “game-changing” books have been written on a myriad of topics, but in the end, it all comes back to the First Cause of everything.
Future-Preference: I first read this term when reading the classic Tragedy and Hope by Carol Quigley. The concept applies to all dimensions of life and denotes the idea that wise actions are engineered based on its value in producing dividends in the future as opposed to now—in short, the future matters more than the present. For example, a present preference would tell you to eat that doughnut now because you want it now. A future preference would tell you that you don’t want to be fat and diabetic later, thus you should just have some lettuce now. The biblical preference is totally shifted away from the present and towards the future, evidenced by the fact that all Christians are to focus on their ultimate reward later (Heaven), with the gift of eternal life. This idea also highlights a concrete example of incentivizing positive performance by giving rewards for the diligent; on the contrary, negative performance is also penalized (sin and thus hell).
Take, for example, the words spoken by Christ in Matthew 6:19-20, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal; But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” In the book of Jeremiah (29:11) God says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Finally, in James 4:13-16 it says, “‘… you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
The life of Christ also provides a groundbreaking example of the future-preference principle. Christ knew He was to die on earth and had to endure the excruciating experience of being beaten and then crucifixion before He could ascend into heaven. The process was so arduous, the word excruciating was made up because no other word at the time could explain the horror and pain of the experience. Now if Christ had only focused on the present and immediate circumstances, He would have said, “No way” and turned around and walked way. Thankfully for us, He sacrificed himself for the sake of humanity and it is only through this act of self-denial and focus on the future that the free gift of salvation could be bestowed on the whole of humanity.
All Christians, upon death and assuming a righteous existence, are given the gift of eternal life in heaven, in perfect harmony with God. Heaven is described as a glorious place with no pain, darkness, regret or discord, but filled with joy, celebration, light, unity and praise. At that point in time, it becomes irrelevant what has happened prior to death since the final reward is so perfect, forgiving and is “payment in full” for hardships previously endured.
Now what I am not suggesting is for everyone to take the extreme stance of ignoring the present (such as, not bathing or looking both ways before crossing the street) completely for the sake of the future, but it begs consideration as to the need to always posture ourselves while (as Stephen Covey says) “keeping the end in mind”. This far-reaching idea applies to all areas of life including family, money, children, relationships and what we do at work. I think it would benefit us all to ask a few simple questions before we do anything, such as “What value will this add to my life?” or “What will be the end result of this?” Remember, the present only exists right now but the future exists without bounds.
Economics: In Isaiah Chapter 1 the prophet describes the actions of an evil and immoral people by citing specific examples of the atrocities that they commit. It just so happens that the evil people belong to the rebellious nation of Judah, and the book serves as a warning to the people to get their act together or else judgment will come—and it did: Judah was subsequently conquered by the Babylonians. In verse 22 it says, “Your silver has become dross, you’re choice wine has become diluted with water.” Merriam-Webster defines “dross” as, “the scum that forms on the surface of molten metal; waste or foreign matter; impurity something that is base, trivial, or inferior”. How then can silver, a precious metal that is inherently valuable, become dross? Simple: if it’s not really silver but you say that it is, or if it’s part-silver and then part something else. This wicked concept either entails a purposeful deception in describing money as more valuable than it really is (part-silver), or, “making money” (not silver at all) and then maliciously attempting to pass it along as worth something when in reality all it is dross. I’m sure any adult who’s been alive in the past few years can testify about entities in our world that have used deception and trickery to delude others into thinking dross was really something precious.
I could take a leap and conclude that this verse in Isaiah also pertains to inflation and “making money” thus making existing currency less valuable, but that may be a step too far.
Interpersonal Relations: In John 4, Christ (a Jew) approaches a Samaritan woman (in Samaria) at a well in a place called Sychar. That may not sound like a big deal, but in biblical times, this was an enormously big deal. First, men didn’t typically approach women at high noon and ask for water—this was a big violation of social norms. The fact is, in this era, women were not second-class citizens. On a good day, they may have qualified for fifth class status. Second, it is worth thinking of the Jews and Samaritans as two rival gangs with a mutual hatred more intense than any rivalry in history multiplied by 10—more than the Hatfields and McCoys, more than the Yankees and Red Sox, more than Republicans and Democrats, more than a hood wearing white supremacist in the Civil War South and Malcolm X.
Despite the fact that the two groups had a common ancestral lineage, the Jews regarded the Samaritans as “half-breeds” from the original Northern Israelite kingdom, who adopted secular gods and customs when they were conquered by the Assyrians. In contrast, the Jews descended from the Southern Israelite kingdom of Judah and considered themselves “the real deal” who remained ritually clean and pure after their defeat and consequent exile by the Babylonians. Things were so bad that Jews often travelled on journeys which were days out of their way to avoid even touching Samaritan soil during their journeys.
Against this background, it becomes clearer how amazing it was for a Jewish man to approach a Samaritan woman one day in Samaria, and then proceed to engage her in conversation. The woman was shocked, and the openness of Christ to engage “the unclean” actually opened the door for discourse, and opened the woman’s eyes and heart to who this man really was. Christ proceeded to speak the gospel to her; this not only overwhelmed her, but set a stage of wonder for her to accept what he was saying as the truth. Christ basically took a righteous action that was so against the grain that she had no choice but to stop, listen, think and earnestly digest what He said. The woman ended up being so excited and consumed by the conversation that she went on to tell the rest of the Samaritans in Sychar, many of whom ended up believing because of her testimony.
This simple story provides two blueprints. The first is for reconciliation: recognizing the gravity of a matter and taking it upon yourself to venture on the first step against the grain with an open, loving intent in order to heal wounds despite what society has to say about it (easier said than done). The second involves reaching out to those whom society has cast away as being “unworthy”, “impure”, or “undeserving”. The effort in and of itself that you take toward this group demonstrates a righteous intent that may transcend whatever it is that you say. Furthermore, this pivotal gesture will lay a foundation of civility and trust so binding that your words may be energized so as to inspire the “castaways” to spread the message of love and kindness to others. Christ never meant to keep the truth in a box, and when the woman at the well embraced it from an openhearted speaker, she couldn’t help but recognize its power, so she had to bring others into the light.
Vision: The key for any visionary to do something big is to first see without seeing, keep your eyes fixed on that goal and then execute your plan in anticipation of the materialization of your vision. Note that I say something big because it doesn’t take much of anything to see yourself taking out the trash or responding to an email.
A great example of this paradigm is in Genesis Chapter 6 where God sees the world as corrupt, and He intends to “wipe the slate clean”. There is one righteous man in Noah, who is then chosen to be the one to continue humanity’s legacy after God destroys the world in a flood. As most people know, God commanded Noah to build an ark, bring his family, as well as two of every animal.
Starting with Genesis 6:11 it says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood … I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark — you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you … Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”
Noah could have said, “No way, buddy” or could have laughed as he woke up day by day and saw the dry ground outside his bedroom window. But, we know from the text that Noah was righteous, and he was specifically chosen for such a monumental task because not only would he be obedient, but he would follow commands despite a persistent, tangible world around him that gave contrary signals. Essentially God said, and Noah did. Noah never saw, but did anyway. Anyone who called him crazy, a lunatic, a conspiracy theorist, or a psychopath would have been speechless and in awe had they not drowned in the resultant flood.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal