I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time over these last several months in the mission field. In fact, I’ve been immersed within one of the most important missionary areas that anyone confessing to be a Christian can labor in; one that is sadly and too often overlooked by so many well-meaning followers of Christ; one that is actually the nearest and most important field within which any of us can work. I’ve been spending time lately in tending to a few of the beliefs, and mending a great amount of faith, within my own heart. And here’s one of the things I’ve been convicted of as of late:
I firmly believe that four of the most destructive words that any Christian can utter to a world that increasingly and desperately needs to hear (and more importantly see) any kind of “good news” of Christ and His followers are these: “The Bible clearly says…”
No. No, it doesn’t.
What may be clear to you is where you are in your walk with God.
What may be clear to you is your understanding.
What may be clear to you is your interpretation.
But the truth of these matters is this:
Your walk is your own, not anyone else’s.
Your understanding is based on your own experiences, your upbringing, and where you currently stand on the path of your life.
Your interpretation may be no more than that, an interpretation.
“The Bible clearly says…”
Yes. To you.
Hear me on this: The sixty-six books and letters and songs and poems and literary art forms that comprise our Holy Bible were written by a unique people for a unique purpose, and often with the intention of a unique clarity.
Often, but not always.
Is there clarity? Is there inerrancy? Is there infallibility?
Yes. Just maybe not as we, with our limited 21st century Western mindset, may have yet grasped.
When I read scripture, above anything what comes most “clear” to me is often the writer’s passion, their joy and their fear, their hope and their hopelessness, their doubt and their assurance. And, to my mind, there are three things we need to keep in mind as we approach God’s Word. Four, if we want to attain an increasing confidence of our faith, in our beliefs, and with the infallibility of our sacred texts.
One, there are things we read within scripture that are timeless; things that can be, and are, made clear to us from the start; things that can be taken at face value—and therefore believed or not believed—based on our unique breadth of understanding, perception, and worldview. For instance, Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created…” If we don’t believe the truth and clarity of that statement, none of the rest of what follows really matters does it?
Two, we need to read a good deal of the biblical books and letters through the lens of time and culture. The writers of scripture were God-inspired, yes, but they were still people, people of a particular culture, bound by a singular place and time, within their own walks, and understandings, and interpretations. Moreover, these books and letters were written to a certain people, to provide a certain function, a certain idea, point, or motivation, within that particular time, place, and culture: In the case of Paul’s letter to the Roman believers, three different groups of people; in the case of John and his prophetic Revelation, seven different churches in seven different fledgling—and deeply persecuted—Christian communities. Gaining an understanding of the culture and context of biblical writing may entirely flip what we once may have “clearly” understood, entirely flipped, but no less insightful or relevant to us today.
Three, we need to be okay with those parts of the Bible that are not clear to us, sometimes intentionally unclear. There are some writings, and again probably a lot more than we are comfortable admitting, that were intentionally written to cause tension, to force us to wrestle with our beliefs, with our knowledge, with our emotions, with our doubts and fears. And that’s a good thing. It’s a necessary thing. We need to be okay with letting that tension shape and form and continually mold our understanding and “clarity” of what we choose to believe as biblical truth. For instance, is the creation story of Genesis historical, and scientifically accurate? Or, is it all allegorical? And overall, does the distinction really matter to truth?
And finally, four, when we proclaim our firm and unbending belief of what we see as biblical “truth”, when we stick an exclamation point on the end of our evangelical proclamation of scripture, we risk negating the divine work of the Holy Spirit within both our own lives, and to the ears, mind, and heart of a seeking, curious, and thirsty world.
A world that wants truth.
A world that needs clarity.
But, above all, a world that desperately longs for love, for empathy, for an evangelical proclamation that may be no longer than two words, “me too.”
If there is truth to be found in scripture (and there is), if there is clarity, and infallibility, and inerrancy, within God’s Word (and there is), if there is salvation, and a peace that passes understanding, and fruits of the Spirit, to be grasped and lived and put on display (and there is), may it be through the unfathomable love, grace, and mercy that we have all been shown and freely given, to those who seek truth, to those who seek meaning, and to those who seek Him.
This is the same love, grace, and mercy, that God has a furious longing to pass on to the world through us, those who have chosen to believe in these unfathomably radical, life-changing, world-upending claims of Jesus Christ.
Maybe it’s time we stop pointing up our neighbor’s differences, their faults, foibles, and “sins”, with the conceited confidence found in those four words, “The Bible clearly says…”
Instead, may we enter a deep and abiding relationship with those both far from God and near yet possibly holding a different understanding of biblical clarity and truth. A relationship that begins with finding the common ground that we all share if we only choose to take the time and look. A relationship that starts with a gentleness and humility that may only require two words: “Me too.”