The Common Good

Glenn Beck as Theologian

Did you know that scripture says, "there is no God?" Yep, it sure does, right there in Psalm 14:1, right after the words "The fool has said in his heart..." Interesting, isn't it? How easy it is to pick and choose verses or parts of verses and make the Bible say just about anything we want. If one takes the last half of this verse, you get precisely the opposite meaning than the text intends to convey.

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It is very easy to do this, and one does not need to cut apart single verses. One can even make scripture say something very different than a broader textual intent would convey by taking whole verses, even whole passages, out of context. Consider, for example, the recent pronouncement by Glenn Beck that the solution to social justice concerns is that Jesus says "get a job." To buttress his case, he cites 2 Thessalonians 3, which reads:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

Now, this is an interesting passage, snatched from its immediate context and deployed as a clever proof text by our ersatz theologian. Well, what if one actually takes the context into consideration? Does that give us any enlightenment as to what Paul (the speaker in this passage, not Jesus, by the way) might have meant? As one might expect, there is -- and as one might also expect, the passage means rather a different thing.

The immediate problem Paul is addressing here is the heightened expectations around the Parousia -- the Second Coming of Christ. Specifically, some had decided to "sit around" waiting for the Lord to return, rather than staying engaged with life. They had become slothful. Now, is the normal expectation that those who can, work? Well, of course. But, to suggest that this passage can be ripped from its context and deployed as a policy position on social justice is nonsensical. This passage in no way undermines the biblical call to care about just social structures, in no way does it undermine the arguments for social safety nets. In short, it simply has nothing to do with the issue for which it was deployed.

Chuck Gutenson is the chief operating officer for Sojourners.

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