Once I had the perfect feather pillow. It had been beautifully shaped by years of use, and with it I slept like a student should. But then I moved to a different country, ending up in Canada. My pillow didn’t come with me, so I had to buy a new one.
The thing about feather pillows is that new ones are nearly always incredibly uncomfortable. They’re too big, they give you a crick in your neck and are generally unsympathetic to your midnight attempts to fluff them into a more comfortable shape.
And then there are the needles, the dozens of little feathers that poke through the surface, pricking your ear just as you’re about to doze off into a contented slumber. These you pluck out only to find yourself breathing them in and choking on them around 3 a.m. After a glass of water you get back into bed and just as the warm embrace of sleep starts to take you, the process repeats itself again.
You can fluff a pillow, but you can't fluff a sword, especially not this one.
Why do we featherians, we feather-pillow lovers, do it, you ask? Why not just grab yourself some lumpy cotton thing that doesn’t include the inherent dangers of living a feather-filled life?
The trick is in persistence, because after a year or so of plucking, you end up with an ideal pillow like my original one. You remove a sufficient number of feathers and the pillow will ultimately become the perfect sleeping companion. You can get it to take any shape necessary to accommodate your sleep preferences. Feather by feather, my new pillow is conforming to my will, and soon it will barely resemble its original prickly condition.
You may be wondering at this juncture about my point. What’s all this about a pillow story and what has this got to do with our Christians faith and the Bible, which is what I really want to tell you about.
Occasionally when I’m reading through the Bible, approaching a state of spiritual atisfaction or even bliss, I’ll get pricked—not by my pillow, but by the words of the Bible. It’s a very uncomfortable process, usually involving God telling Israel to kill people in the Old Testament or some other passage in the New Testament that doesn’t conform to my 21st century sensibilities. It’s around this time that I get the urge to start pruning my understanding of the Bible, plucking out the feathers of discontent, as it were, to give myself a more comfortable Word of God; one that doesn’t prick me just when I’m getting comfortable with it.
In our present society there is an undeniable danger of deflating the Word. So much of what occurs in the Bible seems so foreign to us, at times too harsh and at other times far too lenient. So we are tempted to pick out the prickly feathers, to remove the offending sections that poke through the otherwise acceptable Book of Life.
Hebrews tells us that "the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Often, this is exactly the opposite of what I want the Bible to do; I want it to relax me like a comfortable pillow, to reassure me that I’m not doing so bad, that I don’t need to act on anything I read.
You can fluff a pillow, but you can’t fluff a sword, especially not this one. Nor should we try to dull its edges. If we come to the Bible seeking the word of God, we must be prepared to be convicted as well as reassured. It will spur us to action even as it gives us rest. It’s one of those mysteries God so loves.
Fraser Henderson is a ministerial intern in Ottawa, Canada.