Thursday, January 11, 2007

to err...

I started reading from the beginning of the Bible again - you know, that bit in Genesis where God creates the universe - and I can’t help but feel like, in our attempt to stay true to the words we’ve translated into English, that maybe we’ve humanized it a bit. I don’t want to get into all the theories on creation here, but you know what they are. From God creating the universe in seven literal days, to an accident that took place over billions and billions of years. Now obviously, as somebody who believes in the existence of God, I’m always going to point to the fact that, no matter how many theories “evolutionists” come up with to explain the universe, nobody can come up with any solid theories for how it all began in the first place, where that first protein came from. But I wonder too if some of my more conservative friends have humanized God a little bit by clinging desperately to a very literal understanding of the text we have translated into English. Which brings up an even bigger point, no, question, that I throw out to some of my scholarly and even not so scholarly friends.

In Genesis chapter 9, God tells Noah and his sons to be fruitful and multiply, a verse that many have used against those who would suggest that we are overpopulating the planet (a belief that I don’t necessarily agree with, by the way). But in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul suggests that it’s better not to get married at all. That we’d be better off staying single like he was (he actually says “like I am”). Isn’t that a bit of a contradiction? Furthermore, and this will follow a theme I’ve been on lately, several times throughout the Gospels (Matthew 5:32, for example) Jesus suggests that were you to divorce your wife, then marry somebody else, you would be committing adultery. In one passage (Luke 16:18) he even says that were you to marry a divorced woman, you would be committing adultery. Yet many, many churches have set that verse aside. We don’t even bring it up anymore. I know pastors who have been divorced. And the list goes on and on. We could all name verses in the Bible that seem to contradict other verses in the Bible, and we could all name verses in the Bible that the modern day church has decided not to bring up anymore. Furthermore, I know people, guilty of the very sins that these verses talk about, who, like the servant forgiven of his dept who is unwilling to forgive others of theirs (Matthew 18), are unwilling to forgive people around them who’s sin hasn’t yet been forgiven by the church. And, keep in mind, these servants still owed. These aren’t debts, long overdue, that had eventually been paid off. These were debts still owed! Those servants were, if you will, still very much living in sin.

And so, I have to ask again, where does grace end? What verses do we continue to hold over people’s heads, and which ones don’t we? And does grace have anything to do with this at all? I’m driving at something here that I’ve been wrestling with for a couple of years now, and very few people are going to be happy about it. But please know, I don’t write this to be controversial, I write this because I sincerely believe we’ve picked and chosen verses based on convenience and popularity. So here goes…

I understand that there are verses throughout the Old Testament that we, as Christians, no longer stick to because they’re a part of the purity code, a code that God told Peter and the New Testament church to let go of. But there are other verses, like the ones mentioned above, that Jesus himself declared. Yet many have been willing to (and I’m being gracious with my words here) graciously set those verses aside. So why then, when it comes to a topic that Jesus never addresses, have we not been willing to do the same? And the topic I’m talking about here is homosexuality.

I’m not going to argue whether or not homosexuality is ever a choice for some people. One reason I’m not going to argue it is simply because we still don’t know enough about it and, therefore, really can’t make any educated arguments either way. However, among the ever increasing number of homosexuals that I know, I don’t know a single one who up and decided to be gay. In fact, I only know homosexuals who tried and tried for years to be anything but gay, often even getting married in a desperate attempt to “fix it”. So, if for these people it was not a choice but was truly something that they were either born with or had cast upon them through some tragic event, yet for many who have been divorced it was a choice, how is it that we condemn homosexuals but not divorces???

Now listen, lest anybody get the wrong idea here, I’m not out to condemn people who have gone through a divorce. Far from it. And I’m not necessarily out to defend homosexuals. What I am out to do, however, is point out a position in most evangelical churches that is just hard to stand by. It’s on shaky foundation, at best. It’s one of those things that I have a hard time discussing because, were I to take the traditional church’s approach to the conversation, I would not be able to look people directly in the eye as I did it.

And so I pose the following questions:

Is it possible that Paul’s humanity and cultural bias got mixed into the words that God was giving him at the time? Bare in mind that, if you say no, you’ve got an awful lot of explaining to do on key topics such as divorce, women’s place in the church, etc.

Is it possible that Christ’s death and resurrection covers sin beyond what we’ve accepted or even understood?

And, if you’ve answer no to either of the above questions, what does this suggest about the state of the modern church and the state of the modern Christian?

Likewise, if you’ve answered yes to either of the above questions, what does this suggest about the state of the modern church and the state of the modern Christian?

Btw, I won’t be writing a follow up to this post where I lay it all out for you because, frankly, I’m personally a bit stumped. I just don’t know. Thus I find myself wondering if, if I’m going to ere, if I be should be sure that I’m erring on the side of grace.

Be kind and all comments are appreciated.

Comments on "to err..."

 

Blogger Estelle said ... (6:57 PM) : 

there is nothing wrong about asking and discussing the questions of faith - the biggest problem I think we have is that we don't actually discuss or ask anything anymore in case we offend someone else!! so, let's discuss and question and let's be courageous enought to say and think graceful thoughts!!!

 

Blogger Cari said ... (1:16 AM) : 

These are hard questions. As a divorced chick, remarried to a man divorced from his first wife (both for infidelity, btw) there were some who asked should I even be serving in the church at all. My fallback answer is grace, as in with David, a blatant adulterer, who was a man after God's own heart. Let's throw this into the mix..."what God has joined together"...it doesn't take a genious to know that our previous marriages weren't God-ordained, but poor youthful choices. Does that figure in? Plus, what is "divorce"? At the time this was written you were maritally obligated at engagement. Were they talking about something else? No, I didn't think so, but why not throw it in?

Once divorced, I stood down for a while. I wrestled with my extreme guilt over it for years (YEARS) until I leaned on God's grace and realized He meant it for ME.

I think that culturally we have "pet sins" that we find easy to put aside. In the old testament, it was mulitple marriages. God clearly laid the law down on that for all of the old testament folks in the Torah, but they conveniently chose to do it anyway.

Now, when you ask "where does grace apply," do you mean when do we as the church extend grace? Because it looks like you're saying at what point does the cross stop covering, and that's up to God. His grace covers everything, but I guess if our days are numbered, then when it's time, your affairs better be in order.

At what point do we use good judgement? Clearly some people have no business being in leadership positions in the church. When and how do we decide if they are forgiven and "straightened out"? What's an appopriate "healing" time?

I love Genesis, by the way. Especially the appearance of Christ throughout the book.

I have wrestled with these very questions for too long in my life. I choose to allow God to heal me and stop dwelling on it. Forgetting what is behind, I fight toward the prize.

Don't worry about offending. When we are afraid of the hard questions, we either don't know the answers or are afraid we do and we're wrong...

 

Blogger Larry said ... (8:30 PM) : 

tim,

i don't think it is a matter of picking and choosing. i think it is a matter of us trying to box God in. His love is unending. He is just, but not legalistic.

we often set these standards on our own terms to get an understanding of God. We never will get this until we meet Him in heaven.

i am thinking that our best ideas of what is right and wrong are not close to what God thinks.

 

Blogger Truth Wears Pants said ... (7:20 PM) : 

My wife's mother came back from a trip she took apart from her husband and declared to anyone who would listen that "God told her she should divorce her husband because she was not able to be the woman God created her to be while married to her husband." Other than my wife, there was not a single person who gave any Biblical objection to this. They are a churchgoing family with Christian friends.
My father-in-law is a great man. Gentle and kind and would bend over backwards to make his wife comfortable. To make the picture clear, when I asked his permission to marry his daughter he brought me to near tears as he lamented that he didn't think that he could do anything else to convince his wife to stay. A few weeks later they quietly got divorced. My father-in-law still continues to help his ex-wife if she needs it. All the while she takes his love for granted and continues acting like it is not her fault. A very hard situation. While these occurrences took place I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth by the whole thing. I blame in part the Church that she attends and the lack of spiritual guidance given to her as well as good accountability.

All this to say that I believe homosexuality is a sin. I believe that the issues concerning divorce is a sin. I believe the church is seriously wrong in its acceptance of one and the attack on another.

Grace is grace, and the grace of God is limitless. But I would say that it is different story altogether when we knowingly live in sin without repentance. I would never be so bold as to claim that the grace of God does not cover those instances, but what will be said of us as we stand before Him in glory?

There are many, many parts of the Bible that I don't pretend to fully understand. Paul's writing had cultural influences for sure. I would not even begin to assume that those cultural influences make the words less inspired by God.

We are created in the image of God. Nowhere does it claim that just our physical bodies are. We have minds to reason. We have the Holy spirit as a helper. The rest I will ask God when I see Him.

 

Blogger blameworthy said ... (5:27 AM) : 

Great post. I struggle with the same questions. "Is it possible that Paul’s humanity and cultural bias got mixed into the words that God was giving him at the time?" I think that we should also consider Paul's eschatology when examining his letters. It could be argued that his views on these controversial issues were shaped by the fact that he believed Jesus Christ would come back in his lifetime.

 

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