I have had conversations with many 18-30 year olds who reject religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their rejection of Christianity is based upon a literal reading of Scripture that is inerrant, and I find that interesting. They have been exposed to a literalism that is devoid of the human element in the origin of the Bible. For example, the Bible says God told the Hebrews to kill all the men, women, and children they had conquered, right? The Bible says it, so God must have wanted it to happen that way. Who wants to worship a bloodthirsty God like that? These young adults are not asking dumb questions, but too often they receive some pretty dumb answers.
I have a friend who was preparing a sermon one day when a fly kept buzzing around his head – very annoying indeed. Finally, the fly landed on his desk. Without thinking, he picks up his Bible and smashed the fly. That set him to thinking: we use the Bible to swat one another.
This is what I call the tyranny of an inerrant Bible because we use it as a controlling authority. That tyranny is compounded when pastors and/or other church officials use the same Bible in ways that result in the spiritual abuse of congregants. I doubt if many of these folk really intend to be abusive, but that is the end result. I have seen careers destroyed and churches split because a pastor or other church leader did not accept the politically correct inerrancy of Scripture.
Young thinking adults who have been reared on an inerrant Bible begin to raise questions as they go to college or get out in the work world. They come in contact with ideas and people that challenge the beliefs of their childhood. If the Bible is without error, why are there two creation stories in Genesis? Why do the four gospels have different accounts of the same event?
The two biggest questions I get are about God’s ordering innocent people to be killed and about science/Christian conflicts. How can they accept evolution and still believe in a literal inerrant Bible? They have been taught that if Genesis is in error, that calls into question the validity of biblical truth claims. Genesis cannot be wrong and the rest of the Bible true. This is neither logical nor rational (more about this later). Unless these young adults can come to a different understanding of the Bible they will continue to reject their Christian heritage.
The people who wrote the Bible were real people, writing in real places, and at real times. They had an agenda. They had a story to tell about where we come from as humans, why we are here, and where we are going. The theme of their stories is the mighty acts of a God who was above all other gods and who wanted a people of his own. These are stories of how people interact with this God. The stories have heroes and heroines. The stories tell when and how things came to be and when and how things will cease to be.
This is the first of several blogs in which I will be exploring questions about a literal inerrant Bible. Many of you will be alarmed and be ready to tar and feather me, because to question the literalness and inerrancy of the Bible is heresy. Others of you will breathe a sigh of relief that some of the questions you have about the Bible are not as off the wall as you once thought.
It is a fascinating study and I hope it will give my readers a different picture of what the Bible is and what it isn’t. Stay with me until the end and then make a judgment call!
In the last blog I wrote that I can forgive if I know what forgiveness is not. That is because many people have an uninformed view of forgiveness. In this blog I am saying that I can forgive if I know how to forgive.
In plain English, forgiveness means we give up feelings of resentment against another person. It means we renounce anger against another person. Forgiveness means we refrain from imposing punishment on someone who has offended us. We do not demand satisfaction. That is how God has forgiven us.
Throughout the New Testament the followers of Jesus are repeatedly called to forgive those who wrong them. Jesus said we are to forgive our brother. Who is our brother? Jesus does not spell it out for us. Jesus intends for us to forgive others as he as forgiven us. In Mark 11:25 Jesus said “you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins.” Apparently, God’s willingness and ability to forgive us is limited by our unwillingness to forgive others. More about this later.
Paul wrote to the Colossian Christians “forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you.” [3:13]. Notice that Paul does not identify who anyone is. We are not to forgive only family or friends; we are to forgive anyone. This means that if God dismisses or lets go of our offensive behavior toward him, we must dismiss the offensive behavior toward us from other people.
Forgiveness is costly and that is why we don’t like to forgive. So, I want to forgive, but how do I do it?
First, I forgive repeatedly. In Matthew 18 Peter suggested, probably with pride, that it was a great thing to forgive someone 7 times. This was being very kind, because according to Jewish tradition, one is expected to forgive only 3 times. This belief was based upon a misunderstanding of a text in the prophet Amos. In chapter one Amos repeatedly uses this formula starting in verse 3: This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. In verse 6 the same thing is said about Gaza. Then in verse 9 the same pronouncement is made against Tyre. In verse 11 it is Edom and so on. God brings judgment upon such-and-such a city. So, the rabbis taught, God himself never forgave more than three times. Jesus turned that teaching on its head.
We are expected to forgive, again and again – it’s a commitment that is to be sustained every day of our lives. It is not a single action, feeling or thought. Forgiveness is a way of life!
Second, I forgive even when I don’t feel like it. Peter had gone the extra mile when he says “up to 7 times.” But Jesus surprised him and said, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus was making it clear that you forgive even when you don’t feel like it.
How do you forgive the same person seventy-seven times? Not by feelings, I assure you. You do so out of the conviction that God has forgiven you by choice and because you are responding to his love and forgiveness. It’s a matter of deciding to obey God.
One outstanding example of forgiving when we don’t feel like it occurred when Corrie Ten Boom met a former Nazi Officer who had abused her and her sister when they were in a prison camp during World War II.
After the war, Corrie had been traveling from place to place speaking on the need for forgiveness. After one speech, a man came up and said, “Yes, it is good that God forgives us.” The man was recognized instantly. He said he had become a Christian and asked Corrie to forgive him. As he reached out his hand towards her, Corrie resisted. Then, in obedience to God, as she extended her hand towards him she felt the surge of God’s Spirit pour through her in a supernatural act of forgiveness. Corrie could let some things go and give forgiveness.
Third, I forgive for the sake of my own well-being. In my anger or pain, I may feel that I should withhold forgiveness until the other person has said, “I’m sorry” and ask for forgiveness. This really isn’t very helpful. It sets me up to be a victim twice. I am giving power to the person who has hurt me. Hanging on to grudge is like parking it in the living room. To withhold forgiveness is like taking poison and thinking the other person is going to die.
I should forgive for the sake of my own well-being and inner peace. All of that anger and disappointment doesn’t hurt the other person at all, but they are making a nervous wreck out of me – and you. Forgive them for your own sake.