I had a long discussion with a friend last week, a discussion that broke my heart.
“I am learning that the Bible isn’t…”
I don’t even remember the rest of the sentence, but I do remember my response.
“Is it the Bible you have a problem with? Or is it the human interpretations of the Bible that you are struggling with?” I asked.
Immediately, my friend knew the Bible wasn’t the problem. The issues are with people who feel so strongly about what they believe the Bible says.
What’s the difference?
Let’s use divorce as an example. What does the Bible say about divorce? If you talk to some zealous people, they insist divorce is never an option, no matter how toxic a marriage might be. They insist remarriage after divorce is always adulterous and leads to being condemned to hell. One passage they might use to back this position is 1 Corinthians 7.
But is that what the Bible really says? Many disagree and say divorce is allowed in the case of adultery or abandonment according to – wait for it – the exact same passage in 1 Corinthians 7. Even though this group might allow divorce in limited situations, they may still say remarriage is not an option.
Is that the end of the discussion on divorce? Absolutely not. There’s yet another camp that says God’s grace is far greater than divorce, that divorce (when it is a sin) is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ.
So how can the Bible say all three of these things? The truth is, it can’t. All of these “doctrines” are human interpretations of scripture and therefore fallible. The Bible is infallible, perfect and inerrant, but our interpretations are not.
There are many more examples of “sins” that divide Christians, of doctrines that Christians shout loudly about. From divorce to homosexuality to women in leadership to alcohol to… the list of controversial topics could go on. These topics lead to Christians shouting loudly, defending what they believe the Bible says…
Dividing the church and turning off those who are desperately in need of the love and grace of the Savior.
I am all about correctly dividing the Word of God. We are commanded to be discerning, to correctly handle the Word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). We must be diligent in our studies, to look to the Scripture as a whole and the context – both scriptural and cultural – to grasp a full understanding of what those inspired words might mean. We must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help us fully understand what God intended when He poured out those words to His chosen men.
And then we must cling carefully to our Father and not to any interpretation of Scripture.
Sadly, our zeal to defend our interpretations of scripture is dividing the church and turning away those in desperate need of the healing only our Father can bring.
Years ago when I was in the midst of my divorce, I walked into a church only to hear a comment about “divorced people” from the pulpit. As I sat there reeling, feeling as if the knife penetrating my heart had once again been plunged deep within and twisted harshly, I vowed to use my life to help others find healing in the Father. I vowed to be a voice in the church, reminding them our job is to love and guide to the true source of healing, not to point fingers and condemn those who are already hurting. I vowed to never cling so tightly to an interpretation of Scripture that I quench the Holy Spirit by blocking His voice to His children and guiding them into the future He has for them.
I vowed to be a voice of unity, calling Christians everywhere to focus on the essentials of Scripture (such as love and the sacrificial gift of our Father) while putting aside the non-essentials. I vowed to be a minister of grace rather than a judge standing ready to condemn those whose sins might be different from my own.
You see, although we as humans may categorize sin, Scripture does not. In James, we are taught that the one who murders is no different from the one who commits adultery because we have all become lawbreakers (James 2:10). I can’t find anywhere in Scripture where God says the one who is divorced is worse than the one who is greedy. Actually, it might be quite the contrary:
There are six things the Lord hates—no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family. Proverbs 6:16-19
It seems to me those who are prideful, arrogant—those who insist their interpretation is the infallible word of God—are spoken of far more harshly than those of us who have been through a divorce. It seems to me those who so adamantly proclaim a perfect understanding of God’s Word are more like the Biblical Pharisees and teachers of the law who were so heavily condemned by Jesus.
It seems those who insist on judging others should instead see Jesus bending over, possibly writing their own sins in the sand, as they stand with rocks in their hands ready to cast the first stone at the humiliated one caught in the very act of adultery.
Jesus didn’t have kind words for those who sow discord in the Church, for those who loudly proclaim their own good deeds while casting condemnation on others.
Where are we, Church? Why are we so arrogant, so prideful, that we think our interpretation is the only one? Where is the grace that was so beautifully illustrated by our Jesus? When are we going to learn to take the log out of our own eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s eye? When are we going to stop destroying the reputation of our Father by our own misrepresentations of Him, of His word? When are we going to learn to show grace, to be humble? When are we going to be unified as Jesus Himself prayed for us in John 17?
My heart breaks over those who are turned away from God because of His believers. We will be held responsible! Our job is to draw others to the Father by our love.
I pray I am faithful to this one task.