Okay, I realize I’ll step on a lot of toes in this list (if I didn’t already do so by virtue of the title). So let me state two disclaimers from the outset. First, I am an insider to this struggle. I am quite the opposite of someone who has never owned an expensive, animalskin-covered Bible and therefore cannot understand the appeal of loading up on more of the same. Second, note what I am not saying here. I’m not saying that collecting high-end Bibles equals idolatry, or that the latter inevitably follows the former. If you have a hobby that includes Netflix, Amazon Prime, guns, fishing rods & tackle, tools, jewelry, dining out, or frequent visits to a coffee shop, you would be a hypocrite to point fingers at a large goatskin Bible collection–you could have several goatskin Bible for less than the cost of such habits. So on the one hand, I say a hearty amen with my bibliophile-brethren, and a hearty “Lay off!”
But on the other hand, let’s be very careful. John Calvin was right–the human heart is an “idol factory” capable of turning anything–especially good things–into idols by making them ultimate things or controlling desires. For me, I have frequently been guilty of devoting too much of my thoughts and energies to the realm of high-end Bibles. (Thankfully, my wallet has not been affected too badly as I have had review arrangements to mitigate costs.)
So the following list comes from my own life, as embarrassing as it is to admit! Comical? In some cases, sure. But in other cases, certainly convicting for me personally. So here goes…
Your premium Bible “hobby” might be idolatry if…
- …a package en route makes you giddy, signaled by such things as repeatedly tracking its progress, hoping “today will be the day”, intercepting the package at the post office, or stalking the delivery person.
- …you feel withdrawal or melancholy if you haven’t received a new Bible in a while and currently have none en route. You have the itch for another one you don’t need.
- …you panic if someone touches your Bible (God forbid it’s a child!) #FirstWorldProblems
- …you spend more time admiring the binding on your Bible than you do studying it.
- …you spend money you do not have to acquire a Bible you do not need.
- …you neglect giving sacrificially to the Church and missions, and yet you can scrounge the cash (or go into debt) for a goatskin Bible.
- …you search google images to try and see what Bibles famous pastors use. #GetALife
- …your “hobby” causes conflict in your marriage.
- …you make your kids guess the material of your new Bible(s). My 4-year-old son says, “Goatskin agaaaaiiiin?!”
- …you spend more time taking “Bible selfies” and enjoying other people’s Bibles vicariously through online media and blogs than you do exulting in the Scriptures and serving others out of your love for God and His word.
- …your quiet time sometimes ends by taking a photo of your Bible next to your chair and cup of coffee. #NotCute
- …you talk to yourself in the car about what Bible is your favorite and why (maybe thats good preparation for blog posts, but it sure is weird at best and idolatrous at worst!).
- …you check eBay 3+ times per day for new premium Bible listings.
- …you have owned different copies of the same Bible 4+ times.
- …you try to color coordinate your various Bibles.
- …you pester the publishers and vendors with petty concerns and quibbles. #OCD…#Perfectionist…#LongingForEden?
- …your counselor knows about your goatskin Bibles. #Addict
- …you want to have a backup of your favorite $200 Bible in case it breaks down (even though the reason it cost you $200 is so it won’t break down!).
- …you have difficulty connecting with God using a run of the mill, El Cheap-O Bible.
- …you wish you could take your Bible(s) to bed with you, but you settle for the nightstand.
- …you got defensive when you read the title of this post. #OUCH!
I’m going to summarize the “issues” by running a premium Bible obsession through the description of “idolatry” in Brian Rosner’s excellent book, Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor. Something is an idol if it takes God’s place in your heart, specifically by commanding your:
- Love and Devotion: Does the beauty of _________ eclipse God’s beauty in your mind, thus usurping your wholehearted love for God?
- Trust and Confidence: Do you think _________ is going to satisfy your longing for happiness, satisfaction, adventure, or security?
- Service and Obedience: Are you controlled by _________?
A good gauge is to look at your use of time, your bank statement, and your day dreaming (“if I had more money, I would get _________”). So what does the Bible suggest we do with idols? Drastic measures, to say the least. If you struggle with an obsession over premium Bibles, might I suggest four tactics to try on?
- Go on a buying freeze
- Commit to using the same Bible for a time, and consulting software or biblegateway.com for other translations
- Tell someone who can walk with you
- Read your (one) Bible expectantly, longingly, looking for the glory of Christ, the only one who can give deep and lasting soul-satisfaction, and asking him to become the most glorious, weighty reality in your life.
Also, I highly recommend episodes 53-48 on the Church at the Cross podcast, which comprise JR Vassar’s series on idolatry. It is kicking my butt so far! Vassar calls humans “cauldrons of craving” and “deep wells of wanting”, and he is doubtlessly correct. He’ll help you figure out what motivations (“source idols”) lead you to compulsive / idolatrous “Bible behavior”. Also, do yourself a favor and read Timothy Keller’s book, Counterfeit Gods.
Again, I’m not saying that a shelf filled with nice Bibles means you are guilty of idolatry. But I am saying it might mean that. Then again, having one (or none) might do the same, if Bible design preoccupies your thoughts more than God, and if the book creates in you a stronger longing for more goatskin than more Jesus. In all of this, I realize that enjoying a fine Bible and enjoying Jesus are most certainly not mutually exclusive. So let me say, on the flip side, that the artful craftsmanship that goes into these Bibles points to our artful Creator, if we let it.
This post is not meant to be judgmental, but simply a call for all of us who read blogs like mine to examine ourselves and make sure our hearts belong 100% to Jesus, particularly in relation to these beautiful Bibles that we love. Basically I wrote this post for myself, as I probably need this more than anyone. But I thought others could benefit from it too, and perhaps it will spark some good reflection and discussion. [Side note: If you’re angry at me after reading this, stop and think long and hard about why that is.]
Let me conclude with a quote from John Calvin, the very same who calls our hearts “idol factories”:
The evil in our desires so often lies not in what we want, but that we want it too much.