“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another).”
Miss Maudie, To Kill a Mockingbird
Imagine you are out and about and someone sees you carrying a Bible and asks, “Is that a good book?” We, as good Christian people, would answer an emphatic “Yes!” without even having to stop to think it through. The Bible is a good book because the story within it is good, it was given to humans for good purposes, and because its Author is very good. The Bible is good. Who would dare to call it otherwise?
Once when I was in Ghana I had the privilege to go to Cape Coast and Elmina castles. These are old stone forts built on the sea by European powers in the heyday of Colonialism. They are now known notoriously as “slave castles”. On a tour of the grounds we descended into the dungeon where slaves were kept: dark and small stone rooms with low ceilings, damp odors, and floors mercifully sloped for the sake of draining excrement. We walked through the “Door of No Return” which opens out onto a rocky beach where boats docked to acquire their purchase and set sail for a New World.
When we had ascended from those chambers and our eyes had readjusted to the midday sun, we saw in the center of the grounds a Christian church sitting directly on top of the dungeon we had just left. The irony was not lost on our group. To this day I wonder what the men and women of those dungeons knew of the Europeans’ God. I wonder if they ever heard through their stone ceiling the faint tunes of a strange worship taking place on a Sunday morning. And I wonder if we could ask them if the Bible is a good book what they would say.
The Bible has been used to support injustice, to justify sin, to increase hatred for the infidel, and to decrease concern for this life out of concern for the next. Not only has the Bible been used for evil, but, more frequently, it has not been used at all, and the good it was intended to do has often died in the womb. Sure, these are perversions of something inherently good, but what sin is not?
So, is the Bible good? The answer I have given to this question since I was a child is still my answer. But today my answer contains more nuance: I contest that the Bible is not a good book—or not fully good, at least—until it has done good. If, after years of handling the Bible, your heart is not filled with good, and if the lives of the people around you have not been filled with good through you, then perhaps in your particular case the Bible is not a good book.