Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Most Famous Verses that are not Really in the Bible

If we were to take a poll to discover the greatest movies of all time, we would have a lot of choices, but I am sure that my favorite movie would be in the top three. That movie is “Casablanca:” Great plot... Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman and Sydney Greenstreet and Paul Heinreid and Claude Rains and Peter Lorre... Wonderful ending. But the thing about that movie that makes it a true classic is the amazing number of famous lines that are so much a part of our culture.
 “Here’s looking at you kid.”
 “Round up the usual suspects.”
 “Not an easy day to forget. I remember every detail. The Germans wore grey. You wore blue.”
 “We’ll always have Paris.”
 “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”
 “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

But, none of those is the line that is widely accepted as the most famous line from the movie. I looked up three different internet polls to see if the answer to that question has changed since I first heard it when I was in college, and it hasn’t. Let’s see if you know. The line comes late one night, when Sam, played by Dooley Wilson, is playing “As Time Goes By” on the piano. He finishes playing, and Rick, played by Bogart, says ...


I am guessing that you have given the same answer I heard in a trivia bowl in college and found on those three internet polls. And you are wrong. The line “Play it Again Sam” is never heard in the movie “Casablanca.” Ilsa says, “Play it Sam,” and Rick says “you played it for her, you can play it for me.” But nobody ever says, “Play it again, Sam.”

That has some gospel on it. Here is what I mean: Just as a great deal of “Casablanca” trivia has grown up around a quote that is not in the movie, a lot of very well-meaning folk build their theology around ideas that are not in the Bible. These folks are just sure that these "verses" are in fact biblical. I hear them all the time in my Sunday School class, when someone will say something like, “it says somewhere in the Bible, I am not quite sure where, but somewhere, that...."

So, with that in mind, I want to mention the most famous "unverses" that are not in the Bible.

1. “I am not my brother’s keeper.”
Now, isn’t this a good basis for theology!? Of the three "unverses" I am going to discuss, this is the one that is closest to the actual words of scripture, but a little change in words creates a huge difference. The actual words are “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God comes to Cain and asks where Abel is, and Cain, perhaps out of smugness, perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of disdain for both God and Abel, says “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”

From there, we somehow move to this basis of theology – I am not my brother’s keeper. Now stay with me on this. Politically, I am a staunch individualist. I believe in the preservation of individual rights, and I believe that a promotion of individualism is the best system for promotion of the common good. Economically, I am a capitalist. I know that the profit motive and the ability of an individual to move up a ladder are the cornerstones of the best way for a market system to create the best situation for all of us. But, to jump from individualism to “I am not my brother’s keeper” is a jump that I am not willing to make. It is also a jump that the Bible does not make. Not only is it a misquote, but it is a misquote of the world’s first murderer – not my first choice for inspiration.

Instead, let’s see what the Bible does say.
 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
 “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
 “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food.... It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause you brother to fall.”
 “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

You see, even as we work in our politics and our economics, we also must understand that we are all created in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to each other.

2. “…and David lived happily ever after.”
Now this is a tough one. We start with David playing harps and leading armies. Then we move to his writing Psalms and serving kings. Finally, we understand that he was a man after God’s own heart.

Contrasted to that we have terrible sin. You know the story of Bathsheba. What starts with David's avoiding his duty as commander in chief of the army moves to invasion of privacy, then to lust, adultery, and murder. Not just a single murder, but instead, murder of many soldiers just to make sure that Bathsheba’s husband is killed. Multiple, horrific sins.

David was forgiven. There is no question of that. He was repentant, he asked for forgiveness, and he got it. He was still a man after God’s own heart.

But sin does not quit affecting us when God forgives us. Most of the book of Second Samuel is given to describing the horrors in David’s life that resulted from his sins. A baby died. His children who grew up alternated between raping each other and trying to steal David’s throne from him. Rather than living happily ever after, the lasting words of David are laments as he cries over the death of his son Absalom.

Forgiveness comes. We continue to seek God. God even restores to us the joy of our salvation. But scripture is clear that your sin will find you out.

My point is not to rail against David or to minimize the importance of his writings or of God’s forgiveness. My point is that many build a theology around the principle that they can do what they want because, like David, they will be forgiven, and then everything will be hunky dory. They are right – they will be forgiven. But it is na├»ve and unscriptural to think that the consequences of sin will vanish.

3. “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”
This is my favorite of all. How many hundreds of times have we all heard this one? Again, I am a capitalist and an individualist, and I believe in working for a living and putting your money in the bank. But, this "unverse" is not scriptural. In fact, scripture is just the opposite. If you want to build your theology on an idea, then make it this: the Lord helps those who cannot help themselves!
 “But God commended His love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
 “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. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”
 “They will see the splendor of God, who strengthens the feeble hands and steadies the knees that give way; who says to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear, your God will come to save you.’”
 “I waited patiently for Jehovah; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth.”

The words of a great man, Jehoshaphat, make this clear, and these words are particularly timely for us today. Listen to these verses from 2 Chronicles: "O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. O our God, did you not drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? They have lived in it and have built in it a sanctuary for your Name, saying, `If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this temple that bears your Name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us.' But now here are men from Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir, whose territory you would not allow Israel to invade when they came from Egypt; so they turned away from them and did not destroy them. See how they are repaying us by coming to drive us out of the possession you gave us as an inheritance. O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you."

Jehoshophat was a great king. If anyone could help himself, it was Jehoshophat. But his prayer should be ours. I do not understand. I cannot fix it. I do not know what to do. I am powerless. My eyes are on you, God.

The Lord helps those who cannot help themselves.

Don't rely on things that aren't really there in scripture. Don't live by a "Play it again, Sam" theology.

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