Marco Rubio tweets verses from the Bible as a sign of his deep religious faith and an appeal to the Bible’s power. However, despite his hallow attempts, his tweets reveal that he does not understand the meaning of biblical texts he quotes.
Senator Marco Rubio has long made his Christian faith a public fixture of his political identity, regularly filling his Twitter feed with an abundance of references to the Bible. The pace of his Bible tweets has increased significantly over the last month, perhaps to distance himself from an administration he has supported that may be close to the end of its run. Rubio’s tweets attempt to project the Bible’s authority and power onto his position as a public political figure. He intersperses his Bible tweets with tweets about current affairs to create the impression of a pious man who thinks as deeply about contemporary politics as he does about Christian scripture. Yet a closer look at Rubio’s Bible tweets reveals that he doesn’t understand the basic meaning of the biblical texts he claims to revere.
Take, for example, Rubio’s recent tweet of Psalm 1:6: “Because the Lord knows the way of the just, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” Rubio here claims that he is among the righteous; this is a point he seems anxious to make, as he tweeted this same verse earlier this month. But Rubio deliberately ignores the first verse of the Psalm from which he quotes: “Blessed is he who does not walk in step with the wicked…or sit in the company of mockers” (Psalm 1:1).
Rubio’s frequently defends a president who regularly trades in vicious mockery (Rubio was famously at the receiving end of this himself). It would seem that Rubio’s citation of Psalm 1:6 casts him not as among the just but among the wicked who keep the company of mockers, as the first verse of the Psalm makes clear. Rubio has isolated a single verse containing language that aligns with the persona he sees to cultivate, but he has ignored the Psalm’s actual message. When read in context, the verse he has selected casts him in a rather unsavory light and points to someone who has not thought about the text he has tweeted.
Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me,if you have understanding. Who determined its size?…Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, & who laid its cornerstone…?
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) October 2, 2020
A similar problem attends Rubio’s tweet of Job 38:4-7, part of God’s response when the titular character in the book of Job seeks to understand his suffering: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…who determined its measurements—surely you know…!” Here, God declares that Job lacks the status even to ask why he has endured tremendous pain; God created the universe long before Job’s time, so the divine creator must have his reasons for afflicting Job. Rubio tweets these verses to affirm his faith in God’s absolute power, and perhaps to suggest that like Job, those who ask critical questions about the exercise of power should keep their mouths shut.
But again, these verses work against Rubio when considered in their canonical context. In the book of Job, Job never learns why he suffers, but the readers of the book do. Job’s suffering comes from a wager between God and a member of his heavenly council (“the Adversary”) in the book’s introduction. The reader knows from the beginning that all of Job’s suffering is the result of this pointless wager – one the deity agrees to simply because the Adversary calls into question the unconditional loyalty of the deity’s earthly subjects.
The Book of Job is a critique of ancient religious ideas current in the author’s day that tried to account for the concept of divine justice in the face of brutal politics and communal suffering. When God speaks the words of Job 38:4-7 and commands Job’s silence and submission, the reader of the book is asked to think about the dangers of an uninformed faith in an abusive power. In tweeting out these verses, Rubio ignores the problems they address regarding the sources of human suffering due to unchecked authority and a disregard for human life. After all, the deity commanding Job’s submission is the same deity who allowed the slaughter of Job’s innocent children at the beginning of the book. Invoking Job 38:4-7 is a particularly bad choice for someone with a record of supporting an administration that regularly dismisses hundreds of thousands of American deaths from COVID. It is less a statement of faith and more of an accidental, but still damning, mea culpa.
Rubio’s tweets tell us a lot about how he views the Bible. Like many American politicians, he uses the Bible as a source of authority – something compatible with the traditional mores of Capitol Hill. The Bible is regularly used as a ceremonial text to ratify political oaths of office and align politicians with particular social values and visions (think of Ronald Reagan’s appeal to biblical authority during his first term in office). But the Bible is also used to reinforce the positions of politicians facing instability or questions of power. Donald Trump’s now-infamous photo-op with a Bible during this summer’s protests against police violence springs to mind.
As the country moves closer to the end of the 2020 election, Rubio’s frequent invocation of biblical verses attempts to ground his political situation in language and ideas from a text that might offer political stability and a moral imprimatur.
Rubio’s tweets also reveal that, according to him, the Bible is not a text to be studied but a tool to be exploited. It is significant, then, that his Bible tweets backfire so dramatically against him. In the desperate attempt to project moral and spiritual depth, Rubio cherry-picks verses that indict him of the very morals on which he tries to capitalize. This not only highlights his ignorance of the actual source from which he draws his tweets but also undercuts his image as the responsible and careful thinker that his tweets are meant to create.
Rubio’s tweets are part of a pattern of careless uses of the Bible to score political points and colonize public space for religious interests. Even as he tries to draw a moral line between himself and Donald Trump in the days before the 2020 election, Rubio’s Bible tweets are reminiscent of Trump’s Bible photo-op: they use the Bible’s authority without paying any real attention to its contents. Like Trump, the faith Rubio displays is performative and curated to hold onto political power. And like Trump, Rubio shows contempt for American voters by imagining that these rote appeals to the Bible will absolve him of his various sins – political or otherwise.