Sunday, June 05, 2011

Embracing the Gray

And I don’t mean gray hair!

Do you ever wish that God gave us a textbook of systematic theology instead of the Bible?  I do.  I’m not sure why God chose to give us the Bible in the form it is in, but the consequence is that we have a lot to discuss about the Bible and what it means.  (I suspect that part of God’s intention was to force us to work at relationships instead of making it easy.  Kind of like marriage.  When a couple works through all kinds of difficulties and troubles, they usually end up with a better relationship in the long-run.)  It seems a little odd to me that the book that points us to Jesus is, in many ways, a story book.  Lots of stories.  Put together over a long period of time.  Sometimes it’s hard to know what a text actually means. 

The basic plan of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection is pretty clear.  Beyond that, though, there are lots of places that are just difficult to understand.  Humans like, I think, to be certain about things.  As I grew up in Evangelicalism, I learned a lot of things that were very black and white (many from my church, less from my parents).

1. The earth is about 6000 years old and God created it and all life in six, literal, 24-hour days.

2. The flood was worldwide and all geological formations that we see were made by the flood.

3. People who engage in practices beside married heterosexuality can’t possibly be saved.

4. The plan for the end of the world is spelled out in Revelation, Daniel, and a couple of Paul’s letters and can be predicted, albeit not down to the day.

5. Baptism must be by immersion after someone prays the “Sinner’s Prayer”.

6. We can know about other people’s eternal situation based on whether or not they have prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer”.

As I’ve gotten older and more mature, I’ve learned that very few things are as black and white as I thought.  There are gray areas.  And it’s not necessarily bad.  I have changed my mind on some of my beliefs, but, while I still hold on to some others, I realize that believers in Jesus can and will have differences.

1. I believe that the scientific discoveries that show that the universe and earth are very old and that biological evolution occurred are the best explanations for origins.  But, others believe in an old earth but don’t accept that biological evolution occurred.  But, when we try to be true to the original meaning of the text by it’s original authors (inspired by God), what are the truths that we can get from Genesis 1-3?  Did Adam literally exist?  If not, what does that do to our interpretation of the New Testament references to Adam?  Origins is definitely a gray area.  There are lots of questions, few concrete answers, and lots and lots of opinions.

2. I believe that the story of Noah describes a local flood.  The science doesn’t support a worldwide flood, and the text is part of the early sections of Genesis that may or may not have contained literal descriptions of events.  That doesn’t mean that I believe that it’s unimportant or uninspired!  So, another gray area.

3. I think the Bible is pretty clear that we are only to express our sexuality through marriage to a partner of the opposite sex.  Yet, others disagree.  And they love Jesus.  (And, you have to admit that the examples of sexual relationships in the Old Testament show a much wider variety of “acceptable” sexual practices than we now have.  When a woman is raped nowadays, the perpetrator is (hopefully) brought to justice.  The biblical rules say that they should get married.  Strange.)  While I don’t consider this very gray in my world, I know others who worship Jesus and disagree.  But, I can still worship with them.

4. As we all saw a few weeks ago when the Rapture did NOT occur, there are widely varying opinions on when the world will end and how.  There are those who believe that the events foretold in Revelation have already occurred.  Others believe that Revelation needs to be understood symbolically.  This isn’t an issue that I spend much time and energy on.  It’s definitely a gray area.

5. I still believe that the Bible teaches baptism by immersion after someone has clearly accepted the Christian faith as their own.  Yet, I can see how paedo-baptism (infant baptism) got started and how it is still used in Reformed churches today.  And, apparently, some people do credo-baptism (baptism after the person has professed their faith), but still sprinkle.  The one part of the baptism controversy that is black and white to me is that baptism is NOT what saves us.  However, we can agree on salvation while still disagreeing about baptism.  More gray.

6. A person can know about their own eternal salvation because they can know what they believe and have a relationship with God.  However, we can’t know the eternal status of other people.  If you have seen any of the controversy about the book Love Wins (which I haven’t read), you will have seen how concerned people are to be sure they know what happens after death to other people.  Certainly, we can have some clue as to a person’s destiny, but we can only judge by what we can see on the outside.  God judges the inside.  And here’s what makes this really gray – what happens to people who have never heard the Gospel?  I don’t have the answer for that.  Paul says in one of his letters that those who haven’t heard still have the witness of nature.  Does that mean that God holds us responsible for what we know of Him?  Is there a time after death when people are given a chance to make the choice for salvation?  I think this is the most gray area in the Christian faith that I can think of.  I have far more questions than answers here. 

So, what do we do with all this “gray”?  We don’t run away from it.  Nor do we try to get rid of the gray and make those black and white lines that have become so much a part of Evangelicalism.  Rather, we need to embrace the uncertainty and limitedness of our knowledge and point instead to God, who knows everything, even if he’s not spelled it all out for us in detail.  Besides, would a God that you can understand be a God worthy of worship?

Embrace the gray.  Be willing to talk about these issues with other believers.  Give lots of grace to those who hold a different perspective.  Let’s get away from all the sniping and fussing and fear-mongering and instead focus on Jesus, who tells us to love one another.  Remember, Jesus said to lay down our burdens and take his burden because it is light.  I’m afraid that sometimes I get caught up in these peripheral issues (particularly origins) and forget the primary thing: Love.

Any thoughts?  Go out and Love some people tomorrow!

1 comment:

Kimberly said...

In response to #6, there's a great Bible study our SS class is doing right now based on Erwin Lutzer's book 10 Lies About God. In this book, he gives good insight as to what we know based upon scripture to those who haven't heard the Gospel. (the book is currently packed up to go to FL or I would get it out). Anyhow, he makes the case very well that God will judge believers and non-believers on their knowledge. For those who haven't heard, that means that yes, they see nature around them as well as have an innate sense of right/wrong. However, to expect someone to accept Jesus as their Savior but they've never heard of Him would be wrong. He clarifies that God is just and will be just with everyone, including those who haven't heard (he uses scripture to back up that God will judge based upon knowledge). Lutzer also makes the strong case that this is why missionary work is so important and quotes the latest statistics of those who haven't heard (I can't remember but it was quite large). It's a great book that I highly recommend! We're almost done. Hoping to finish it while in FL. :)