Applying Scripture to Modern Context

Art and Essay by Doug E. L. Haynes. This essay was originally published in translation at gospel today
There are occasions when I read scripture passages and question whether it is still relevant today. Times have changed considerably since the texts were written and sometimes it feels very distant. I was inclined to think this when I read the text of Exodus 21:28-35 Exodus 21:28-35 regarding the procedures for dealing with rogue bulls. I live in an urban setting where nobody gets gored by bulls. Nevertheless I chose to illustrate this passage because it struck me as an interesting flow chart of actions.

I drew each of the interconnected actions and consequences with lines connecting them. The bull is killed when it is found to be a danger to the community, but the farmer who keeps the bull also faces scrutiny. Did the bull demonstrate a prior history of goring? If so the farmer who kept it despite such a history is held accountable. Even if this is the first such event the farmer is liable for compensation to the victim’s family.

It took time for the modern applications of this ancient law to occur to me. As I was painting this passage, a story about a mass shooting came on the radio and I realized that even though rogue bulls are no longer a danger, our community still grapples with senseless loss of life. Perhaps if modern miscreants were substituted for the original characters the story would gain new life. I thought for a moment about how our country struggles to control an epidemic of mass shootings. Of course mass shooters who survive are brought to justice, but our modern laws sidestep assigning responsibility to those who enable shootings. Those who play an ancillary role in mass shootings include: gun manufacturers, gun dealers, lawmakers and gun advocacy groups. Often the “Christain” response from these groups is to offer “thoughts and prayers for the victims”.

The ancient law governing rogue bulls makes sure that members of the community are held accountable for their actions. There is no mention of thoughts and prayers for the victims. Instead, the focus is on accountability by those who could have taken action to prevent harm. In contrast the talking points of gun advocates are focused on the freedoms of gun owners or fantastical thinking about “good” guys with guns stopping “bad” guys with guns. Offering prayers for the victims is a fig leaf of religiosity which allows one to appear pious without digging deeply into biblical ethics. Until we rebalance our thinking to emphasize the prevention of harm over the unbridled freedom, we will be falling short of the accountability described in the 21st chapter of Exodus. Our current law favors freedom over prevention of harm.

This essay explores my application of biblical ideas to a modern problem in my culture. I realize this problem does not exist in Korea, but I hope that readers might find ways to apply biblical ethics to their own context.

Works by Doug E. L. Haynes