Monday, April 4, 2011

You don't have all the answers!

The bible can be a really hard, complex and confusing book to read.  Anyone that says any different either hasn't read it or is afraid to admit it.

I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent adult of great faith and there are times I struggle with the Bible.  Sometimes with just trying to figure out what the author is trying to say and sometimes with what a particular story or passage is trying to illustrate.  There are times when it is just downright contradictory...times where it commands followers to fear God, but then later says fear not and in God there is no fear!

Much to the dismay of some bible teachers I've had, I've never been afraid to ask the hard questions.  Instead of getting answers to my hard questions, I usually to find out that me and two thousand years worth of bible scholars have been asking the same question.  I have found over time, though, that even if I can't find an answer, I can find out a lot about a person by how they attempt to answer my question.

The first kind of answer I hear comes from people who I call "Sunday School" answerers.  When thrown a difficult question from the bible, they recite back an answer they either learned in "Sunday School" or other learning situation.  Sometimes the Sunday School answerer repeats back a quaint platitude or euphemism that oversimplifies the hard question to the point where they are more pacifying the question than genuinely trying to seek Truth.  They can't deal with a religion that doesn't have easy answers.

Similar to the Sunday School answerers are the Puffed Up answerers.  These are the people who have studied like crazy (except for 1 Corinthians 8:1 apparently) and subscribe to a particular set of theologian's interpretations.  These people will start their answers with, "Well, (insert puffy theologian name here) said....". That is not bad in itself, obviously, but then the person clings to that idea because who the person is that said it, by putting their confidence in the theologian over what God may directly be speaking to another person.  When someone questions that stance, instead of continuing to search, pray and think, they just say, "Who are we to question (puffy theologian name)?  I mean, they are (same puffy theologian name)."  The put their confidence in a particular human's interpretation, instead of in God and the Holy Spirit.  They tend to not be able to deal with a religion where there isn't someone telling them what to think.

Third are the Stretchers.  The Stretchers are people who are so convinced that nothing in the Bible is contradictory or impossible to figure out that they stretch the scripture to almost the breaking point (sometimes well past the breaking point) in order to make something fit their own preconceived notions about either God or what they think the Bible should say (usually to support a particular denomination's dogma).  Their concern is that the Bible be everything THEY want it to be.  They can't deal with unanswered Biblical questions, because they cannot stand that their security blanket may have some perceived holes in it, so they rely on their own understanding and interpretation to create a book of Scripture that is completely explainable by the painfully limited human mind.  They, thus, put God in a tiny box.

Then there are the Heaven Knows answerers.  They've been trained to respond to the hard questions by answering, "Well, there are some things that we just won't know until we are in Heaven."  While that is true, the problem with this group is they expect the conversation to end there.  They would rather accept the unknown than to wrestle through the question and learn through the journey.  They also suffer from the pride of thinking, "well, if I can't grasp the answer, then no one must be able to."

The problem with these four kinds of answerers is they don't have teachable hearts.  They rely so heavily on their formulaic explanations, that they close out the opportunity for the Great Teacher to educate them.  Even worse, once these people memorize and begin to employ their formulaic answers, they stop seeking God's face.  They instead rely on their own understanding than to allow God to take them on the grand journey of finding out His complexities.

I have found that the answerers I respect most are the one's that say, "I don't know.  And this has been debated for thousands of years.  Let's read it, pray about it and research it, find out what other's have said and what God is saying to us about it and see where that gets us" or "I lean this way in my interpretation of it, but others see it differently and these are the questions I still have about it myself."

Hebrews 6:1-2 encourage us to move beyond the elementary teachings of the church and into more mature topics.  If we are to begin to tackle the heavier and weightier subjects, we must make sure we preserve our teachable hearts and not confine our learning by putting God in a box bound by our reliance on easy, canned answers.  We must be ready to go to the mat with God and scripture, wrestle through it, explore it, open ourselves up to the Father in such a way that we no longer hear worldly opinions or accept traditional interpretations, but allow the Holy Spirit to do the work He chooses in us to help us see as God sees.  

So, don't be afraid to ask the hard questions!  You likely are not the first person to have questioned that.  But do be careful about how you answer.  Make sure you are relying on the Holy Spirit above our own man made answers.  And above all else, answer everything in love.  No true answer from God will ever be delivered without love.  It may be tough love, but it is love nonetheless.

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