Compelling Me with Scripture


As I mentioned last week, I grew up on a farm. Our farm grew crops, like wheat, corn, and sunflowers, and kept chickens for eggs and cows for breeding and meat. Sometimes the cows’ desires created problems. They wanted to be in the fields, rather than in the pasture, so they could eat the crops.

When the cows broke a fence to get into the wheat or sunflowers, we’d chase them out and repair the fence. To help keep them out of the crops, we would move them to a fresh pasture. My parents would lead them with a pickup that had hay piled in the back, while my sisters and I chased stragglers on foot.

One day, as a teenager, seeing no benefit to myself to put forth the effort required to chase cows to a new pasture, I told my parents I wouldn’t help. The response I got was, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” I complied.

Their response was a reference to scripture. I didn’t know which scripture text it referred to, but I did know that it was a scripture reference. As such, it conveyed religious authority that transcended their parental authority. The scripture text is, “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10b, NRSV)

They stripped the scripture passage from its context to create compliance. The scripture passage’s reference text says, “Paul rebukes those who, because of the supposed imminence of Christ’s coming, had ceased to work and were living on the generosity of others.” This is a small event in my personal story, but it mirrors how religious language and traditions can be misdirected and misconstrued to serve the ends of people in power.

Did you grow up hearing references to religious texts? Was scripture helpful, harmful, or both? How did it shape your perceptions of faith and work?