One of the things that bothers me is how easy it is to fall into a comfort zone in the walk of faith. I’m pretty sure this comfort zone is found by all forms and stripes of Christianity. Liberal Christians can prove their point, Conservative Christians can do the same by grabbing a Bible and starting to spin the words and interpretations of those words to best fit the narrative that they are most comfortable with.
It’s easy to find justification for all sorts of things in the Bible. It’s easy to cherry pick Old Testament scriptures to authorize bigotry and hatred, just like it’s easy to lay claim to a new covenant in the New Testament as license.
In the case of the former we reserve the things that make us uncomfortable as relevant and the things we enjoy as given the green light by God when the new covenant went into effect. It’s pretty simple…
Leviticus 11:4–8 (NLT) — 4 You may not, however, eat the following animals that have split hooves or that chew the cud, but not both. The camel chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is ceremonially unclean for you. 5 The hyrax chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. 6 The hare chews the cud but does not have split hooves, so it is unclean. 7 The pig has evenly split hooves but does not chew the cud, so it is unclean. 8 You may not eat the meat of these animals or even touch their carcasses. They are ceremonially unclean for you.
I know a lot of people who love bacon…I know a lot of christian people who love bacon…I know a lot of conservative christian people who love bacon… and because of said love for bacon…this particular law is no longer relevant because that’s old covenant stuff, and we live in the New Testament era…
Leviticus 18:22 (NLT) — 22 “Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.
Same book of the Bible, same law different new covenant…this one sticks the other one doesn’t. The logic is flawed but the real issue isn’t about logic, it’s about what I think is right or wrong and if I think it’s wrong and I can find a scripture to back up that I think it’s wrong that’s all that matters, and if I find a scripture that says what I like is wrong, especially in the Old Testament I can throw that under the new covenant deal and justify my vice.
But this problem is much bigger than the whole homosexual debate that seems to be so all important to conservative and liberal believers.
Liberal Christians argue from silence, and original language, and context because that suits their point of view, it’s hard to argue with well-reasoned academic study of the issues, context, and time period and all of those things taken into account make things so much easier to believe and can bring a sense of pride in a study well done.
But there are some pesky passages that are hard to really pin down.
When I read Facebook rants from either side I feel like there has been no progress in the Christian Faith for years.
Matthew 22:34–36 (NLT) — 34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
This is where I feel American Christianity is these days. So let’s do some 21 Century paraphrasing.
But when the Pastors heard that the board members didn’t like what Jesus was telling them, they decided to set the record straight by ranting on Facebook, Twitter, and if given the opportunity Fox News. They asked Jesus which sin God hated the most, which sin found in the Old Testament Levitical law really mattered?
What I find most interesting in this whole exchange isn’t the question that the leaders asked, What I find so interesting is what Jesus said.
Matthew 22:37–40 (NLT) — 37 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Let us again do some 21 Century paraphrasing:
Jesus looked at them, shook his head and said “you just don’t get it, Love God Love People. It’s not about what sin is the worst, it’s not about that at all, it’s about Loving God and People so much that you see past their Sin, past their mess, past the things that bother you about them. It’s about loving God so much you want to please him, and loving people so much you will do whatever it takes to share God’s love with them. Just like we’re doing with this whole incarnation thing…”
Both sides of this whole debate miss the point, at least in my estimation they do. In our desire to be right about this or a myriad of other issues, we have made God one of two things…angry and vengeful, or weak and disinterested. We have taken God’s word and twisted it to make our points, in doing so we have lost sight of what matters. Loving God and Loving People.
We find words like whosoever and all in the new testament but we really don’t believe them.
A better reading of those passages for American Christians would be…
“For God so loved the people I’m comfortable with, that he sent his one and only son that looks like I do, that as long as they affirm my personal beliefs and refuse to question what I’m comfortable with or what makes sense to my interpretation of scripture, they get in, no questions asked.”
I could go on but I won’t, mainly because it’s exhausting. The number of people I have hidden or just plain removed from the social media platforms I use based on Biblical arguments or Political agendas is growing every day. Far from being a place for spirited debate, or genuine concern and a desire to understand the other persons positions, it becomes a soap box, to spout a particular point of view without any real need to understand the others position, to actually get to know the person behind the point of view. It’s great fun to find a group that will nod and smile, and affirm what you think and feel and believe, then load the cannons and shoot them toward the other side in hopes that the resultant explosion will blow some of them to your side and way of thinking like some rag-doll physics avatar in a first person shooter. (Not sure what I’m talking about search YouTube for halo matches you’ll get what I’m saying.)
What would it look like if we decided to get to know the people we are so angry at, if we took time to actively listen to their side of things, instead of putting on the headphones of narrowhearedness and the sun glasses of only my viewpoint matters because I’m right. Jesus was right. He was always right, and yet he didn’t really worry about that so much when dealing with people who needed a touch from Him. He worried more about talking to them, loving them, meeting them where they were, touching their needs, listening to what they had to say, and basically making the important people upset and frustrated because he was more concerned about the person than the problem, or the sin, or the struggle.
Think about it for a moment. Samaritan Woman, Yep I’ll reach her, Roman Centurion, I got this, short tax collector everyone hates, let’s do lunch, lepers, I’ll talk to them, beggar sure, demon possessed crazy guy running around the grave yard scaring everyone, lets help him out, woman caught in the act, compassion given. The list can and does go on. Jesus modeled for us how we are supposed to live and move and have our being in the world. He paid his taxes, talked to anyone, loved people who were supposed to be shunned, fed people, hung out with the wrong crowd, and even loved the guy that was going to betray him.
As I struggle with my faith, as I dig into scripture I’m finding that increasingly God wants to move me toward a different paradigm. Please understand I’m not saying he’s trying to move you dear reader, I would never presume to the voice and leading of the Spirit. First I find myself digging deeper into things than I used to. I’ve always wanted to know and advocated for a personal faith that goes beyond up-bringing, church affiliation, or any other number of factors. What has been happening with me has been this desire to understand more than I used to. Second, I’m more interested in the whole idea of loving God and loving People, than I am in Loving God and tolerating people. Some people may think I’ve decided to be soft on “sin” or have compromised my upbringing or convictions…Gosh I hope so. Here’s why. I’m not God. Me being “soft” on sin doesn’t mean I don’t believe it exists, it doesn’t mean I don’t talk about what separates us from God, it doesn’t mean I think that God has changed his mind on what sin is, what it means is I recognize that Matthew 7:1 and 2 gets skipped over way to quickly so christians can get to verse 6. For some reason we like verse 6, it helps us justify our treatment of people that we don’t like or we think are unable to really know who Jesus is or have a relationship with him. Just so were all clear here’s the first set of verses
7 “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
I like the way the message says it, but other translations are just as clear. The harder I am on people who don’t measure up to my standards the harder things are going to be for me. As far as compromising my upbringing or convictions, that’s something that we all do on a regular basis, what I mean is if we are actively working on our faith, if we are pushing into God and his word, we will by necessity find our upbringing and convictions in flux, mainly because being close to God, and studying the Bible will shake up what we always “knew” it will transform our lives in ways that we don’t understand and just when we think that we’ve made it to the spot where everything is as it should be, God will show us something else that will start the whole process over again. That’s the thing about the Christian faith. It’s supposed to be an active part of who we are, and in my estimation the best way to keep it from being active and alive in my life is to declare that I’ve got it all figured out, that I know how God thinks, and reasons, and I can therefore dispense judgment and words of wisdom that are equal to his own.
I’m just not there, and never do I hope to be. I just want to be able to live and move and walk and have my being in Jesus, I want to let him push and pull and stretch and ball up and start all over again. I want to be able to stay open to where he leads and not hold so tightly to what I know is truth that I miss the Truth leading me into a deeper more robust relationship with the God I love and serve. I have a feeling that the longer I walk this earth, the more what I have always believed will be challenged, what I do when that challenge occurs can mean the difference between being able to share my faith, and being relegated to a camp of angry religious people who should know better.