• A little humility, please

    February 1, 2012

    Years ago when I was battling depression and wrestling with great mysteries, particularly predestination versus free will, I was around a group of folks in college who found the apostle Paul’s thoughts in “Romans” from the New Testament far easier to understand than I did. Everything was clear to them. Obviously, God chooses to save us. Obviously, we have no part in it. Obviously, grace is irresistible.

    I, rather, found Paul not so obvious. One minute he seemed to say that God chooses whom he’ll save. The next, he seemed to say it’s on us to believe. There were even moments when he seemed to say both at virtually the same moment. Since I was melancholic, full of self-doubt and -loathing, I assumed the problem was all mine. My friends were seeing things more clearly because they were closer to God than I was. God had revealed more truth to them because he either loved them more or because I was just too messed up to see things correctly.

    Then, one wonderful day, I took a break from Paul and read the letters of Peter in the New Testament. There was some heresy spreading through the church, apparently. False teachers were twisting some of the apostle Paul’s teachings to their advantage, which prompted Peter to write,

    “… Our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16 NIV, italics added).

    What was that? Did he just say Paul wrote things that were sometimes hard to understand? I nearly danced a little jig around my room, and some of you know how excited I would have to be for that to happen. This is the apostle frickin’ Peter, the man Catholics believe was the first pope, the man who walked on water with Jesus, for crying out loud! If anyone should have found Paul’s writings to be light reading, it should have been Peter, but here he freely acknowledges that, yeah, some of it’s tough.

    Maybe wrestling with Paul’s letter to the “Romans” didn’t make me a dullard. Maybe it just made me normal. Maybe my friends in college lacked one great essential quality of the Christian faith: humility. I bring up all of this because we’re headed into “Romans” in what will probably be a series of blog posts; “Romans” is just too rich and tangled a work to handle neatly and simply in a few paragraphs. “Romans” is, I think, the densest and most complicated of Paul’s letters to rightly interpret and apply to life. A little humility will be needed here. Already we’ve seen how a passage can be interpreted wrongly (I think) to condemn gay relationships (see posts “The Sodom Story” and “What about Judges 19?”) And already we’ve been told in a recent email I received from an old friend how “very clear” God is in his Word:

    “God is very clear in His Word. He doesn\’t mince words and He doesn\’t contradict Himself. There are times, especially when I want to rationalize my own sin, that I wish He were more gray in certain areas but He\’s pretty much black and white on most topics.”

    Again, I’m not picking on my friend who sent me this email, and I agree that the Bible is sometimes clear, but sometimes what we find obvious is, upon further reflection, more complex and complicated than we ever imagined. Even Peter seemed to think the New Testament writings could be difficult. Things can’t be both “hard to understand,” as Peter said Paul sometimes was, and “very clear.” Paul himself devotes a chapter in “Romans” to “gray areas” of the faith, matters of disagreement among Christians, areas where things are not “black and white.”

    If we do not approach the Scriptures humbly, willing to challenge what we’ve always heard, open to asking, “What if I’ve been wrong all this time?” we risk, I think, becoming the “ignorant and unstable” people Peter references, people who twist the Scriptures, albeit unintentionally. I’m not saying we need wallow in confusion forever, or that we can never have a settled confidence about what the Bible says. I’m certainly not arguing, as some do, that the Bible can say anything. No, the Bible says some things and not others, and the task for all of us is to determine what it means by the some things it says, and how to live in the light of that meaning. That’s the tricky process of interpretation and application. Tricky, but not impossible, and it can be quite a fun task, but it does require humility.

    Posted in: The Gay Posts

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