After Jesus was crucified and came back to life, his disciples had a hard time believing what they were seeing. They thought he was a ghost, still dead. They saw with their eyes, yet still did not understand. Don’t be surprised if you have difficulty understanding what you read in the bible, for even eyewitnesses had trouble.
Yet, as Jesus did for His disciples, He can do for us…“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) Understanding does not come from our own intellect, cleverness, or imaginations. Understanding comes from only one source, the Holy Spirit. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)
If you are willing, the Holy Spirit can open your mind and show you the truth. As Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12-13)
Many opponents of California’s Proposition 8 (ban on same-sex marriage) try to use the bible to present their case, claiming that God and Jesus actually support same-sex marriage, or at least that they aren’t against it. Note my emphasis of the phrase “use the bible.”
I’m not going to try and convince you that God and Jesus are against same-sex marriage. God did a perfectly good job of that already, as is recorded in His book. If you are a Christian and you also believe same-sex marriage is a good thing; well, your personal beliefs are just that, personal. I’m not going to argue with you.
After all, none of us are “perfect” Christians in that we usually have a hard time accepting everything that God and Jesus tell us in the bible. For example, I have a hard time accepting that people I dearly love, who do not know God and Jesus, will likely not make it to heaven. But I still love God and Jesus with all my heart (my mind just gets in the way sometimes). I believe that someone else can love God and Jesus just as much or more, and yet still believe that same-sex marriage is a good thing.
But if you are such a same-sex believer, and if in your efforts to convince others that you are “right” in your belief, you choose to “use the bible,” my post today is for you.
If you are so sure that same-sex marriage is good and “right,” I wonder why you feel you need to rely on God’s word to make your case. After all, marriage as defined in this context is not a religious union, but a civil union. Everything I read from advocates of same-sex marriage centers on civil rights. So why bring religion into it? Could it be that in your heart you know that God does not approve, and therefore, by your ego you feel it’s necessary to make it look as if God does approve? Does your ego require that God agree with you? (Now there’s an absurd thought: is it more important that God agree with you, than you agreeing with God?)
If God doesn’t agree with you, the solution is not to distort His word. Just accept it as is, and accept the fact that you believe in something that is not accepted by God. This is not a message for advocates of same-sex marriages only; this is a message for all of us who may succumb to the temptation to tweak God’s word a bit.
My request to those who distort the bible in order to make a case for their personal beliefs is this: humbly accept that you are on your own in your beliefs. Accept that God does not agree with you. I’m not asking you to let go of your beliefs (though I suspect God is). But please, do not be so arrogant as to put your own words and beliefs into God’s mouth. Do not misquote God or spin what He has said. And ask for forgiveness for any times where you may have misrepresented His word; He’ll forgive you.
Extremist see so little; only what they want to see. I thought about this as I watched the final presidential debate last night, and was reminded again when I got to work this morning.
I saw in the debate views on both sides that I liked and agreed with. On the other hand, friends at work this morning greeted me with total praise for every word that came out of Obama’s mouth, and condemnation for every word uttered by McCain. Things just aren’t that black and white for me (no pun intended). I believe that every person, no matter how “different” they may be, has opinions that can be valued and accepted by others.
Yet extremism blinds people to the worth of others who are “different” from themselves. I believe the fundamental makeup of the extremist is that they are not willing to even consider the views of others. This goes for political extremists, environmental extremists, religious extremists; you name it.
Referring back to the types of topics I typically write about, here are a couple of examples of religious extremists:
The members of the Topeka, Kansas church who loudly proclaim that God hates everyone except for them. They apparently read the bible looking only for things that support their view. If they come across something that is in conflict with their views, perhaps they ignore it or simply spin it.
Those who believe that God does not consider homosexuality a sin. Based on what these people have to say, it appears they read the bible in the same way as the “haters”, or maybe they don’t read the bible at all.
What these two groups have in common (other than how they read the bible), is that they are blinded by their extreme views; unwilling to even consider evidence that is in conflict with their beliefs.
Extremists don’t always stand out like the radical Obama supporters where I work, or the religious nuts who carry signs saying “God hates you”, or the suicide bombers in the Middle East. We all may be blinded by our own extreme views and beliefs. Think about it; where are your blind spots?
I’ve had some interesting comments to a short post that showed up on this blog back in May (Do not call anyone on earth “father”). One comment claimed that Jesus did not mean this instruction to be taken literally, and that I was therefore just Catholic-bashing. Well, I have to admit, it is sometimes difficult for me to resist the temptation to “bash” certain Christian denominations. It just seems to me that many of them have wandered too far from the truth. However, in all my posts I try to avoid “bashing” anyone, and instead, just focus on the “truth.” Yet I know I’m not always successful.
Anyway, today I would like to take a look at this concept of whether or not Jesus intends for us to take certain things He said as literal instruction. And if we are not supposed to take something as literal, what is the point Jesus is trying to get across to us? I’ll offer up two examples of scripture, as points of discussion.
The first scripture comes from the 18th chapter of Matthew, where Jesus proclaims:
“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18:7-9)
Does Jesus really mean this? Should I gouge out my eye because I gazed lustfully at someone who just walked by outside? And if I did, would my lack of eyesight really stop my lustful ways? I can pretty much guarantee you that lust could still enter my heart, with something as simple as a casual touch of a hand. I don’t need to see to lust. So was Jesus wrong? Don’t count on it.
It seems clear to me that in this passage of scripture, Jesus did not intend for us to take Him literally, simply because the actions He proposes will not really fix the true root cause of the problem. For the example I’ve given above, the root cause of my lust resides in my heart and in my mind, not in my eyes or even my hands. Okay, am I then supposed to cut out my heart and brain? That doesn’t sound very biblical. The conclusion I come to is that Jesus was illustrating a point, not giving literal instruction.
Maybe we can all be happy that Jesus didn’t really mean what He said (if you choose to agree). Though He did not expect us to take His instruction in Matthew 18:7-9 literally, He did have a point. But my purpose here is not to focus on that right now, but to look further into this idea of literal vs. non-literal meanings. I’ll leave it to you to dwell on the point Jesus made in Matthew chapter 18, if you choose. (you can read more of my thoughts on this topic in my post of September 10th)
But now I’d like to go a bit further into Matthew, for the second passage of scripture I wish to look at. This passage is the source of the verse I sited in the “Do not call anyone on earth father” post:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:8-12)
First, what does your heart tell you? Is this illustration, or literal instruction? If you still don’t know, then what does your mind tell you? Read it again, and if you like, read the entirety of chapter 23 to gain the full context.
The best answer is the one that comes from your heart. Yet you can help your heart come to the right answer by using your mind. Read the Bible; learn from Jesus how He feels about such things as pride and humility – He’s telling you in verse 12. And with your heart, learn from Jesus why He is telling us to not call anyone on earth “father.”
Please comment and let me know what your heart is telling you.