Our country is in tumultuous times. Everywhere we turn, we are faced with division and strife. Racism. Same sex marriage. Refugee crises. Transgender issues. Targeting of law enforcement officers. Terrorism. Religious freedoms. Gun control.
Everywhere we turn, violence erupts. With each hot-button issue, emotions run deep. We have become a deeply divided nation, one spewing hatred and bitterness.
A friend recently posted to his Facebook, “What’s up with all the angry white Christians?”
My heart sank as I read those words. We Christians are frequently portrayed as intolerant, as dogmatically rejecting anyone and anything that does not match our theology. We are seen by those outside the Christian community as the most hateful people, ready to judge others for their lives while failing to recognize our own short-comings.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid it’s a pretty accurate description…at least to a certain extent.
I was raised in a conservative Christian home by wonderful, loving parents. I was taught the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, fully trustworthy in every situation. God’s Word always has been—and always will be—the final authority in my life.
Yet, in 2016, I wonder if we are truly clinging to the inerrant Word of God or if we are more often clinging to fallible, man-made interpretations of scripture. Perhaps we are much more like the Pharisees than we care to admit.
Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly pointed to the importance of loving others. In Acts 2, we read about the early church. We see that they selflessly gave of themselves and their possessions to help others, to meet each other’s needs. And God added to their fellowship.
It was the selfless acts, the extravagant love and grace of the early Christians, that drew others into their fellowship. It wasn’t their adherence to a set of rules and regulations. It wasn’t their calls for holiness and separation from the world. It wasn’t their political stand. It was their love that drew others into the Way.
You might be thinking, “But the early Christians didn’t have the same pressures, the same struggles we have. They weren’t facing a world where all of their beliefs were systematically rejected.”
Don’t fool yourself. The early Christians had to wrestle with their own hot button topics. Romans 14 talks about food choices, a hot topic in its time. Do we adhere to the Old Testament laws or are we under grace? Acts 15 addresses the issue of circumcision, a legal requirement for the Jews but an issue completely foreign to the Gentiles.
These topics may seem ridiculous to us, but to the early believers they were just as important as the issues we face today. They were issues that caused dissension among believers and made them look foolish to the outside world.
And do you know the final answer?
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong….Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. Romans 14:1, 12-13
I want you to understand that I stand firmly on the side of the inerrancy of scripture, but I am afraid that we have twisted and contorted the Word to say what we want it to say and not what God intended. The theology to which we cling often alienates and suppresses rather than embracing and freeing.
I am beginning to wonder if, in our pride, we have decided that we know all the answers when perhaps God intended a certain amount of mystery.
Let me give an example from my own life: I am divorced.
Growing up, I held to the belief that divorce was wrong. The only exception was for adultery, and adultery only happened to those who were not fulfilling their role as a spouse.
Until it happened to me.
Suddenly, I was face to face with reality. Was I at fault in my marriage? Did I do something to drive my spouse into the arms of another? Or was it a result of his own free will?
As I walked through the pain and devastation that overtook my life, my theology changed. Yes, I still believe God’s ideal is one man, one woman for life. But I have learned to accept that we live in a fallen world where the ideal sometimes doesn’t happen, where one (or both) spouses may allow their hearts to become hardened and walk away from the covenant made with their spouse and God.
I have come to question my interpretation of scripture as I dig deeper into the realities of marriage and divorce. Is adultery the only acceptable reason for divorce? What about abuse? Should a spouse stay in a marriage where he/she and/or her children are at risk? What about emotional abuse? Is a spouse required to stay in an environment where his/her humanity is slowly and methodically stripped away? What about addiction? Are we required to stay in a situation marred by the dangers of drugs and alcohol? Or pornography? Does a porn addiction count as adultery?
Life is not black and white. We can interpret scripture by the letter of the law or the spirit of the law. We can base our interpretations on the traditions of man or the character of God. We can err on the side of judgment or grace.
And it doesn’t matter what the hot button issue.
Here’s the conclusions I have reached:
We are all created in the image of God. Regardless of race or sexual orientation or religious preference or career choice, God created us all.
We are all loved deeply and intimately by the Father. He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9). We will never fully grasp His ways, His thoughts this side of heaven.
Our job as Christians is to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-38). Just as God showed His extravagant, radical love by sending His son to die for us, so also should we love those around us.
Non-Christians are not expected to understand our convictions (1 Corinthians 1:18). We cannot expect the world to conform to our Biblical standards because our ways are foolish to those who do not believe.
As I’ve wrestled with some of the hot-button issues of our day, I’ve come to understand that I don’t fully understand God or His ways. There are mysteries, some of which I may never understand this side of heaven.
However, wrestling with the tough issues has also changed me. It’s made me a much more loving and gracious person. I hope that as I wrestle, I become more of a shining light of His love to the world around me. I pray that as I struggle with my theology, others are drawn to the Savior because of His love oozing from me.
Perhaps it’s time that we as Christians throw aside some of our preconceived notions, our Pharisaical traditions. Perhaps it’s time we search scriptures with an open heart, asking God to reveal His heart to us. Perhaps it’s time we do everything we can to show the radical love Christ showed so others will know we are Christians by our love.
Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see this world through your eyes, with eyes of love and grace and not condemnation and judgment. Open my ears to hear the hurt and pain and devastation of the poor and marginalized, of those who don’t know you. Open my mind to understand your ways, your heart of compassion for those who are desperately in need of your love. Use me up and pour me out as a drink offering for others so they might know I am yours by my love.