In her sermon last Sunday, Heather addressed the different ways in which people approach scriptures, especially those parts that we tend to find disturbing. The scripture in question that day was John 3:18, the often overlooked verse that follows the famous John 3:16-17.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
I don’t want to enter into a discussion about what these verses actually mean but suffice to say that many people find them to be troubling. As Heather pointed out, there are those on one side, the more ‘liberal’ side, of the spectrum who cannot in any way accept the ‘obvious’ import of that verse so they decide that it should be ignored. Those on the other, more ‘conservative’, side will accept it’s ‘obvious’ meaning, no matter how troubling, because if it is in the Bible then it must be accepted.
Some of us, though, reside somewhere in the theological middle. Which means that we do not have the luxury of blindly accepting all that is written, especially if it creates cognitive dissonance.
We also are not willing to discard any Biblical teaching that we find troublesome. It must be in there for a reason, so if we seriously consider the Bible to be an important tool in a our search for spiritual meaning, then we owe it some serious consideration. Which means that we will often question what the conventional scriptural wisdom is.
Our conservative critics point out that this philosophy likely represents a lack of faith on our parts – a lack of obedience to the will of God. But, as Heather said, in reality we do this is for precisely the opposite reason they suggest. It is our understanding of the Gospel, our devotion to the teachings of Jesus and our obedience to Christ as lord that compels us –no,demands – that we question those scriptures that seem to undermine the loving mercy of God.
Coincidentally(?), I read something later this week, in Gerald Schroeder’s newest book,”God According to God”, that echoed Heather’s message:
Schroeder shared some midrash teachings that suggest God’s relationship with Abraham cooled after the aborted attempt to sacrifice his son Isaac. Although Abraham passed the test of dutiful obedience to God, he may have failed another part of the test, a part that was to measure Isaac’s compassion and desire for justice. (Remember, the practice of child sacrifice was something which God abhorred among the gentile tribes.)There is also evidence that Sarah may have been traumatized by Abraham’s actions, as the Bible says that she died soon after.
“This discussion of the binding of Isaac and its aftermath is not intended to teach us how Abraham, the founder of the people of Israel, “should have” acted. In his time child sacrifice was what was done, although Sarah, it seems, might have thought otherwise, had she been consulted. Rather, the episode brings the message of what God wants of us, how we are to act and react when challenged by life’s vicissitudes.
We have the right, in fact the Divinely granted duty, to dissent when life presents us with demands deemed unjust and undeserved. (italics mine) Anything less than that betrays a misunderstanding on our part of God’s interactive role with Its creation. In proportion to the relationship that we have established with God during times of joy, we can demand Divine redress in times of trouble. As we would do in any loving relationship, we can argue with God. That in itself can lessen the burden.” [Gerald L. Schroeder, God According to God]
Can an authentic, dynamic, relationship ever be built on blind obedience?