Hearing God By Taking His Word Out Of Context? Only In Fiction

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I like watching our Little House On The Prairie DVDs. The stories are clean, sweet and moral — all rare attributes in the entertainment industry. Since my Cerebral Palsy makes it impossible to read or use my computer in bed, watching shows like Little House offers me a way to unwind in the evening.

Despite its reputation for being a spiritual show with Christian overtones, however, Little House On The Prairie fails miserably when it comes to sound theology. An episode I recently watched brought this fact home to me quite vividly, reminding me how important it is to read and apply Scripture in its context. Although the storyline celebrated the misuse of God’s Word, I want to caution against following the character’s foolish example.

In the episode, Caroline scratches her leg on a dirty nail, but forgets to clean the wound immediately. Naturally, an infection sets in, causing all sorts of complications. In desperation,  she opens her Bible. Wonderously, her eyes fall on words that give her direction:

And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: ~~Mark 9:45 (KJV)

For dramatic effect, the writer of this episode substituted the word “leg” for “foot.” Predictably, Caroline understands this isolated and misquoted verse as instruction to amputate her leg. As the knife touches the wound, it lances the infection and she passes out.

The show ends with Doc Baker and Reverend Alden wondering how she knew to lance the wound at just the right time. “God only knows,” they conclude with awe.

Good fiction doesn’t always translate into responsible theology, however. As a result, this episode troubled me. Although I highly doubt that anyone would misinterpret Scripture to the extreme that Caroline did, I regret to say that evangelicals actually do make more subtle misapplications.

But let’s return to Mark 9, just to demonstrate why literal amputation isn’t the correct response to verse 45.

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” ~~Mark 9:42-50 (ESV)

Here, Jesus is warning us not to tolerate anyone or anything that leads us into sin. Even in the King James Version, verse 42 establishes that offending parties are people and things that put us in the path of temptation. As offensive as an infected leg is, it generally wouldn’t cause anyone to sin.

While Caroline’s botched attempt at amputation made great fiction, real life misapplications of Scripture both dishonor God’s Word and endanger Christians. The stuff that makes a compelling story might not be very helpful to actual spiritual growth.

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