Originally published March 5, 2015, at “faith in community.” Republished with the author’s permission.
I was in a meeting with some pastor types and a consultant one evening. We all looked down at the agenda and saw that the first item listed was “Scripture and prayer” and realized, possibly at the same time, that none of us had brought a Bible.
Before I considered that I could probably look up anything I wanted on my phone, I considered what Scripture verse I might know by heart. One of my colleagues offered to share his: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
As it turned out, it was a good Scripture passage for a meeting where we would discuss efforts to collaborate in social ministry in and with our community. My colleague is passionate about social justice, and it makes sense that this is a passage he has committed to memory. But it’s not the first Scripture passage that comes to my mind, not the one that came to my mind when I suddenly thought I might be required to share something I knew by heart.
If it had been me, I would have recited, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” It’s one of my favorite Bible verses.
I like to think that our favorite Bible verses reveal something about us. It makes a difference if the verse we have committed to memory is “Beloved, love one another,” or “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.” It makes a difference if our favorite story is the one about the water and the ark and the animals, or the one about the boy who defeated a giant with a sling shot, or the one about the man who fed 5,000 people with five barley loaves and two fish. I like to think that our favorite Bible verses (if we have them) are mirrors that reflect back the mysterious ways God is working in each of our lives.
But what about our least favorite Bible verse? What does that say about us?
Let’s not pretend we don’t have one: a Scripture reading we would just as soon pass over, a story we would like to forget is even in the Bible, a phrase that is like a pebble in our shoe, irritating us every time we walk.
Maybe it’s the verse about women being silent in church, or some of the particularly violent and puzzling scenes in the book of Revelation. Maybe it’s the verse where the Psalmist blesses the one who dashes the enemy’s little ones against the rock. Maybe it’s the one about loving your enemies or that one about cutting off your hand if it causes you to sin.
Or maybe it is something even more basic than that.
One of my least favorite Bible verses is one I recite all the time. I know this one by heart, too. So many times I go to the cemetery after the funeral, and before I recite the words “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life. …” I say these words, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies it bears much fruit.”
And I love these words and the images they conjure up, of life springing from the ground, of the fruit of the grain given to be shared.
But I hate what comes afterward. “The one who loves his life loses it, and the one who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
I know what the words are supposed to mean, but that is not what they sound like. I know that “in this world” means the sinful world that has rejected the Christ. But when I am standing in the cemetery, surrounded by a grieving family, I hate this verse. The person who died loved his life, loved her family. The one who died loved her garden, loved playing the piano or dancing or baking cookies. I have thought about just stopping and not saying the verses, but that doesn’t seem right either. So I just plow ahead through the whole reading, wishing I could stop and say, “That’s what it means! You can love your life! You can love the life God gave you, and still be ready to let go of it.”
What does this say about me, I wonder? Does my least favorite Bible verse say something about me (for good or ill) like the verses I have underlined and taken to heart? And what does it say about me that I keep reciting it anyway, arguing silently while I speak? Is it a sign of courage or cowardice?
What is your least favorite Bible verse?