“Ask a Priest: Can We Just Open the Bible and Find the Right Answers?”

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Q: Is it OK for us to do “reading at random” with the Bible? It has been a practice of a certain community whenever they are facing a problem. They would pick a passage from the Bible at random to see how God was guiding them. The procedure is this: Pray to God first, stating your problem or current situation that needs to be answered, and then, without opening your eyes, you will start moving your hands to the Bible freely and open the page, stopping your finger at some point. Then you open your eyes and read that verse. The verse might answer directly or indirectly the problem. They have been doing this since for a long time. It seems a harmless practice, and it was never reprimanded by any of the clergy. But I have read somewhere that God never promised us that he would answer in this way. Is this use of the Bible universally accepted in our Catholic Church? Would this fall into a sin? — J.A.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: What you describe can be called bibliomancy.

There’s nothing wrong with turning to the Bible for guidance. But the Bible isn’t a simple manual of moral theology.

It’s a very complex collection of books that needs to be read within the light of Sacred Tradition. Passages from the Bible need to be understood in their proper context.

Asking for God’s guidance and then looking at the first biblical passage that comes along could border on presumption. It’s as though we assume God will give us an instant answer to our problem or question.

God doesn’t always work like that. He’s not a vending machine that pops out answers on demand.

You might find an earlier posting helpful: https://rcspirituality.org/ask_a_priest/ask-priest-ok-use-bible-divine-future/.

Big decisions require prudence. No. 1806 of the Catechism calls prudencethe virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”

One practical method would be to list the pros and cons of the various options, give a numerical weight (such as 1 to 10) to each pro and con, and then add up the numbers and see which side seems to carry more weight.

Then take all this to prayer. “Holy Spirit, it seems as though X is what we should choose. Is this the way you want us to go?” (Never to be considered is an intrinsically evil act.)

Suffice it to say that we need to approach God humbly in prayer when we have a petition. He has his time and place and way of answering. But how he does that can be unexpected. So we need to be patient and docile.

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