Do you ever wonder why God wasn’t clearer in the Bible about certain contentious issues? Things like how to do church, or whether or not to keep the Old Testament feasts (and, if so, how?), or an exact definitive theology on the gifts of the Holy Spirit? What about the role of women? Or the ‘right’ way to baptize someone? Or the specifics of His second coming? The Bible is God’s major tool in communicating all the doctrines that He wants His people to live by. You’d have thought he would have proofread it a few times to make sure everything was completely clear, with no possibility of confusion…
Could it be that God isn’t so afraid of our different opinions?
How easy it can be to hold tightly on to our way of doing things and suspect that anybody who thinks differently has slipped off the tightrope of perfect theology and fallen, horror upon horror, into error.
We sometimes behave as though a Christian who thinks differently to us must have an inferior spiritual life to us. Their prayers must be weaker. Their commitment to truth must be insincere or self-seeking. Perhaps we even secretly wonder if they are really saved. At the very least we pity them because they are not as spiritually mature as we are and we are fairly certain God must be a little unimpressed at their ignorance.
But let me ask you, do you agree with everything YOU have ever said or believed? Haven’t you grown and matured and changed your mind about a great deal of issues (spiritual and worldly) multiple times throughout your life?
I’d like to suggest that God isn’t afraid of our innocent interpretations, even misinterpretations, of Scripture. He isn’t afraid if we get something wrong. In fact, I wonder whether God has deliberately kept some of the ‘right’ answers hidden so that we would learn to seek Him over seeking good theology.
A few years ago, I spent a year at a ministry school that welcomed and even celebrated our ability to think differently. During a series exploring the End Times, we dutifully took notes as a visiting speaker told us confidently that the rider of the white horse in Revelation 6 was the antichrist. The next day, to our bemusement, another speaker told us firmly that the rider of the white horse was most certainly Jesus. Clearly they cannot both be right. Was this negligent on the part of our ministry school? Irresponsible or perhaps even dangerous to allow two conflicting viewpoints? Not at all. It was essential in ensuring we sought the matter out for ourselves. It also reminded us that sometimes, despite our best intentions, we will probably get things wrong.
The pressure to be theologically perfect at all times is too big a burden to bear.
Whilst writing the Livi Starling book series, I fretted over whether I was being completely scripturally correct over every theological or spiritual issue I touched upon. I felt the weight of responsibility for what I might teach my readers and spent some time seeking the Lord as I prayed over and over, “I don’t want to fall into error…”
Something God said to me during that time left such a profound effect on me that it not only found its way into the fourth book, but it also ensured I completed the book series with great confidence that God would fulfil his purposes with or without me being perfect.
What he said was this: “The greatest danger is not falling into error. The greatest danger is falling out of love.”
This one little sentence continues to give me enormous freedom. I don’t want to be in error, obviously. And, honestly, I tend to think I am right about everything (just ask my husband). But I also recognise that in the process of questioning and growing and learning, I am bound to get some things wrong. I may even change my mind along the way. And that’s ok. The substance of our Christian life is not to be measured by the amount of information we have in our heads, but by the quality of our intimacy with the Lord.
There are so many things that I was taught as a new Christian that I soaked up at the time but which I do not hold to anymore. God is ok with that. He didn’t despise my past immaturity and in the areas where I still don’t have all the right answers, He doesn’t despise me now.
I have learnt that I don’t need to fear other people having a different opinion to me. I don’t need to panic about convincing other Christians to believe exactly what I believe. What matters far more is to help one another cultivate a hunger for more of God’s presence, for it is in His presence that we discover some of our hard fought for theology doesn’t really matter after all.
Of course there are aspects of our faith that are not up for dispute, for example the divinity of Christ, his death and resurrection, but- let’s be honest- most of our disagreements are not about these things.
The vast majority of our Christian life is rich with mysteries and paradoxes and varying levels of maturity and it is ok if we do not all agree. If God is not afraid of our errors or our differences then we shouldn’t be either.