The crusty old Bible, hidden in your hotel bedside table or lost at the bottom of your library, may contain very modern lessons for today’s self-obsessed generation.
Split into two sections, the Old Testament of Jewish prophets and scribes and the New Testament of disciples of Jesus, the book is the core of Christianity.
Its truth is disputed, famously by novels like The Da Vinci Code. Its social influence wanes in the face of rising Agnosticism and atheism in the West.
But its core message of love and selflessness is still “very relevant today”, according to one retired religious researcher.
“Today’s generation is very much to do with self, whereas [Christianity] reaches out and goes beyond self,” says Dr Anna Grant-Henderson, a Uniting church minister.
“You have to remember its context is way back there [in ancient history], but you can take from it the same relationship ideas, the fears, the grief, the anger and you can talk about them today,” she says.
Dr Grant-Henderson came late to the church, drawn to its selflessness. She cautions that readers can “get into strife” if they take the Bible’s messages out of context or read it too literally, but insists modern society can learn from its teachings.
“For me, it was the fact it wasn’t supposed to be self-centred. It was about reaching out, caring for your neighbour and I think that is very relevant today. I think we’ve become a very self-centred generation.”
Here are some of its relevant lessons.
Care for the planet
The Old Testament contains the theme of “a need for care” and a concern for “the whole wonder of creation”, Dr Grant-Henderson says.
In this Old Testament book, the author writes as if God were speaking, saying: “And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” (Leviticus 18:28)
In the book of Numbers, the Jews are commanded to “not pollute the land in which you live”. (Numbers 35:33)
The Bible even commands care for the animals, saying: “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief.” (Exodus 23:12)
Nor are sparrows “forgotten in God’s sight”. (Luke 12:6)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:16)
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)
Don’t be greedy
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)
“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” (1 Timothy 6:9)
“The greedy bring ruin to their households, but the one who hates bribes will live.” (Proverbs 15:27)
“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
“The second [greatest commandment] is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31)
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27)