I’m hesitant to write this post as it has the potential to create some controversy. At the end of the day, we can’t be afraid of that though, can we? (well, we can be, but how is that living a life that counts?!)
I probably should start with a disclosure: I do believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. I also believe that we are incredibly limited in our ability to fully understand God due to the fact that our ways are not His ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. (Is 55:8). No matter how hard we may try (oh, and I also believe that He does want us to try), we just cannot even begin to grasp or comprehend the vastness in every possible way imaginable that is our Creator.
That said… even when portions of Scripture appear to be in conflict with one another, I think we have to remember that we are making that determination based on our limited understanding.
So, is that the controversy, Michelle?…unfortunately, no. That is just the beginning.
Some things in the news lately really have me thinking. It started with the whole Indiana religious freedom situation and took me back to the actions of a major global ministry some twelve months ago. While I’m not going to specifically fall on the side of either majority opinion here, in the interest of thinking beyond this ONE issue, I do want to point out just a couple of things. So, again remembering that this comes from my very human – thus very limited – viewpoint, let’s take a peek at it while trying to consider the totality of Scripture and character of God.
Here are just a couple of things that we know…
1. Jesus was constantly raising the standard or set of widely accepted expectations for people. There were many instances where He did not directly answer questions but, instead, challenged people to think “higher” – certainly beyond the issue at hand. There are several examples of this starting with the Sermon on the Mount – one of Jesus’ first public messages that surely would have flown in the face of all that was commonly understood and widely accepted among the people of the day. (Talk about your risky first sermon, eh, church leaders?) (Matt 5: 1-12). There was the situation where religious leaders tried to trick Jesus in his response to a question about marriage (Matt 22: 23-34). There was the woman caught in adultery. We love that one, don’t we? We get to see Jesus give all those righteous guys a good “what for” in their judgment. We see Him extend amazing grace and mercy to that woman. Sometimes we don’t pay close attention to the ending though… that’s the “go and sin no more” part in case you were wondering. (John 8: 1-11).
The example I’ll focus on here is when Jesus was asked about paying taxes to Caesar. His quick response was this: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s! BUT (wait for it)… give to GOD what is GOD’S.” (Luke 20:25) What did He mean? What was He getting at? The way my simple, everyday-Joe-just-tryin’-to-understand-the-Bible mind sees it is this: This life is short…and temporary. Do what you have to do here without compromising your Creator. Sure, pay your taxes. Sure, obey laws. BUT, and more importantly… (and, FYI, this was the bonus message the religious leaders didn’t ask for), give God what is His. What did He mean by that? Everything is God’s. Money is God’s. Earthly authority is God’s. We are God’s. He was asking, where is your heart? What’s most important to you? When all of this passes away (even Caesar and all of his money), what will be left for you? If you are only concerned with “obeying the law of the land” then you are only concerned with what this world offers and expects. God wants more for us… and from us – even if it’s hard (and it usually is).
2. Jesus didn’t seem to have a lot of prerequisites for people to join Him in His work. He found a couple of fisherman and said, “Come and follow me. I will make you fishers of men.” (Mt. 4:19). He didn’t review their resumes and He didn’t make sure that they were “without sin” before bringing them onboard for the task at hand. From what I see, He just didn’t ask (He knows what’s in a man, after all. He didn’t need to). If we’re coming at this from a Christian perspective, can we just agree that we are ALL sinners? There is no point in trying to delineate the hiring or serving or in any other way interacting with “certain people” with “certain sin” in this world. We should just operate under the absolutely true assumption that we ARE all doing life, in every aspect, with fellow sinners! There’s just no way around it. It’s who we are!
The other important thing to look at here is this: did Jesus interact with known sinners? OF COURSE! He even made it a point to and said, in fact, that WAS the point (Mk 2:17). However (now this is important), Jesus also did not condone behavior and actions that went against the instruction and character of God. We see time and again that He was very direct (most often gently, but at times even quite passionately), when confronting sin. He was willing to be unpopular over it – so important was it to be a Truth teller – not just for His sake, but for the sake of those He loved who needed to hear the Truth. Jesus wasn’t interested in saying things that would make people feel comfortable and affirmed with life as they knew it. Again, what He understood that they didn’t (and we oftentimes, don’t) is “life as we know it” is not the end goal.
and the final point stems from the above…
3. Paul talks about how “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23). Oh my, doesn’t this sinner know that this is true. I always think it’s interesting that in our human mind (and even from culture to culture), we measure one sin as weightier than another. One time I had this interesting thought (disclaimer: 100% just my ‘creative thought’ – zero biblical basis or actual belief): what if God didn’t “see” sin but only saw a color spectrum based on our heart’s motivation?
I imagine it looking something like the below where white represents “God, I know I mess up, but in my heart of hearts I really want to live my life as You have called and created me to live it” and black represents, “I have no interest in pleasing God, serving God or much at all that relates to God. My personal life slogans are: ‘if it feels good, do it’, ‘I want what I want when I want it’ and ‘lookin’ out for No. 1.’” In between are various places of seeking and trying and failing and obeying. Point is, what if God didn’t see the specific thing (sin) but only where our motivation fell on the spectrum? What if we thought about sin like that? What if we weren’t so quick to point to ONE SPECIFIC INCIDENT OR BEHAVIOR and instead tried to see the heart motivation behind it? It’s like when people talk about putting bags over our heads so we’d all be “color blind.” What if we could be “sin blind?” One thing’s for sure, we all have “stuff.”
Does any of this help point to a definitive “answer” to the political and religious questions and issues of our day? No, not really. Jesus’ responses didn’t always either. Sometimes He was very direct – yes/no, black/white, right/wrong. More often, He used stories and examples and questions to cause people to possibly think just a little higher…a little broader…a little longer-term than the “life as they knew it” in their here and now.
My challenge to you and to me today is this: are we willing to sacrifice the comfort of our day to day (relationally, socially, politically, maybe even very, very personally…) in light of the Gift of the greater end goal?
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2