According to Jesse Ball, a writer in the latest issue of GQ Magazine, the Bible is an overrated and boring book. In fact, the 39-year-old novelist and poet went on to characterize the Old and New Testaments as “foolish,” “repetitive” and “self-contradictory,” among other things.
Understandably, Jesse Ball’s assertions have stirred up significant controversy. But this isn’t the first time that the Chicago-based writer has made curious, perplexing and outlandish pronouncements. For example, just last year he suggested that every American should be put in a maximum security prison once every ten years – for up to ninety days at a time.
According to Mr. Ball, this admittedly unconventional exercise “would help ensure that the quality of life within our prisons is sufficient for the keeping of human beings.”
So is he serious about his declarations or just a provocateur in search of publicity?
Doubters and skeptics of the Bible have always existed and Mr. Ball joins a long list of history’s atheists and agnostics questioning the most influential book of all time. Even so, one would hope the editors of GQ would exercise more discretion than to provide a platform for this type of sacrilegious screed. Some have asked whether the popular men’s magazine would welcome a similar piece mocking the Koran. It’s a fair question and one that I think we know the answer to: no.
But what’s fascinating about these and similar charges against the Bible’s authority and timeless wisdom is that the inspired writers of the Holy Scriptures anticipated these very critics thousands of years before they were even born.
“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,” wrote the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 1:18). He went on to say, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor. 1:20). And finally, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:27).
Over the course of history, countless millions have found comfort in the timeless and wise words of the Old and New Testaments. They’ve comforted the grieving, enlightened the curious, emboldened the weak and inspired the doubting. They embody so much depth and richness that not even multiple lifetimes of study could exhaust the treasures to be mined. As someone once said, “The Bible is shallow enough for a child to wade in – and deep enough that a scholar will never touch bottom.”
They’ve changed my life and countless others through the ages – and I suspect they may very well have changed yours.
As I mentioned, criticism of this kind has been around a long time. Once, when a skeptic saw Abraham Lincoln reading his Bible, he asked Lincoln why he would waste his time doing so. Our 16th president replied, “Take all that you can of this book upon reason, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier man.”
I’ve never met Jesse Ball, but the famed evangelist Billy Sunday must have known men of his kind. “The reason you don’t like the Bible,” he once said, “… is because it knows all about you.”
One final thought.
I find Mr. Ball’s call for the mandatory imprisonment of every American to be ironic in light of his apparent atheism/agnosticism. For it was the aforementioned apostle Paul who once referred to himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:1). Of course, Paul wasn’t just speaking metaphorically, but literally, too. He spent considerable time in chains, arrested for the “folly” of his faith and his refusal to renounce his belief in Jesus.
As Christians, we know that every person is given the opportunity to either accept or reject belief in Jesus. When we reject Him and His gift, we slip into a man-made prison of guilt and grief, an unrelenting and unresolvable cycle of discontent. Conversely, when we accept and believe, our chains fall off and we’re freed to live as God intended.
Alas, Jesse Ball and GQ, while wrong, actually got something right. According to the ways of the world, the Bible and Christians are foolish – fool’s for Christ’s sake (1 Cor. 4:10), that is.