Drink the whole pot: studying difficult Scriptures
Do you walk around with a little box? The box can be defined by a creed, religious cliche or dogmatic statement. Most boxes hold, at the very least, some slivers of truth. But we cross an ugly line when we try to cram every Scripture into our box, even when it doesn’t fit.
The Safest Place
The phrase “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will,” teaches some truth. Yes, disobedience will land us in trouble, maybe even in the belly of a fish (just ask Jonah). Yes, walking with God leads to the most joyful, fulfilling life. However, I doubt Stephen’s friends quoted this cliche when the persecutors’ rocks crushed his skull. The Bible tells story after story of Godly men and women suffering and even being killed BECAUSE they stood in the center of God’s will.
I met a lady who’d been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. The tears flowed down her face, not because she feared death, but because she believed her illness indicated disobedience. She’d been surrounded by people who told her that only blessings and safety surrounded God’s children. She didn’t understand why God casted her from His presence.
The cliche teaches us some truth, but it can devastate without fuller teaching. So instead of forcing difficult Scriptures, such as when you are persecuted or take up my cross, into a box, we need to see if our box fits under Scripture.
Once Saved Always Saved
The phrase once saved always saved has been interpreted many different ways. It’s not my intent to cover them here, although I do delve further into this issue here. I only wish to caution you into forming a box in such a way that you feel compelled to dismiss Scriptures that don’t fit. I recently read an article which stated, “Since we know that the Bible teaches that we cannot lose our salvation, we must understand Galatians 5:4 (“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”) to mean…” The author proceeded to try to cram the verse into his box. And people on both sides of this doctrinal dispute do this.
Allow me to share one more example, and then I’ll get to our solution:
Faith and Works
An attorney friend once taught a lesson to students with me. We each presented our Biblically-grounded arguments concerning the importance of faith and works. He argued that a faith statement was all that we needed to secure our salvation (Romans 10:9). I argued that God will judge us based solely on our actions (Matthew 25). We both quoted from scholars and Scripture.
The point of our courtroom classroom was that we must embrace all of Scripture. Scripture teaches that we can’t be saved by works, but it also says that faith without works is dead. So we must put it altogether, even when it messes up our tidy little box.
A Pot of Soup
Sometimes there are things I read in Scripture that I can’t connect and see clearly in my human mind. I try and try, but I can’t make perfect sense of it. In the meantime, the healthiest thing I can do is to make a pot of soup: I add all of the ingredients. I don’t leave out anything. I toss a passage about works in the pot, I sprinkle in passages about faith, I dump in the passages that mention them both and then I stir it all together. And I drink it all.
Some people may look at my soup and say, “Brian, ingredient 1 and ingredient 3 don’t really go together very well.” That’s okay, I’ll drink it all anyway. If I can’t make perfect sense of how it goes together, that’s better than acting like some of the ingredients don’t exist.
Let Scripture rule your life. Don’t let a doctrinal statement confine the enormity of God’s Word. And if you have to dwell in a little bit of unclarity, realize that our brains are really tiny compared to God’s. It’s okay. Don’t give up, keep studying, keep working towards clarity and trust that God will reveal to you what He pleases.
Be cautious of those little statements that might box-in Scripture. Let the text win. The text beats out opinions, traditions and any doctrinal statement. The text must win every time.
*I’m thrilled to read a new book by Mark Scott and JK Jones called Letting the Text Win.