“When God doesn’t make sense” is the title of a book written by Dr. James Dobson. I have never read the book or even had a particular desire to read it, but the title has long intrigued me for all sorts of reasons. There is, for example, the question of human suffering, especially of the innocent and vulnerable, which has occupied great minds for time immemorial and while many have had a go at trying to answer why this happens, no one (in my view) has fully and satisfactorily been able to do so. Then there is the question of the “difficult” and “contradictory” passages in the Bible and what to make out of them if we believe the whole Bible is the word of God.
In the past few days, I have found myself unintentionally coming up against those who believe the Bible yet see things differently than I do. While I have to back myself when it comes to such disputes, I realise that a degree of humility is also needed and that there is still much I do not understand. When it comes to the difficult passages, I was made to think as a result of listening to this morning’s “Thought for the Day”. In it the speaker referred to an interfaith event he was involved with when members of different religions read extracts of passages from their scriptures in order to encourage interfaith dialogue and understanding. The speaker was taken aback when a Jewish rabbi read from Psalm 137: “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”, and asked why he hadn’t selected a more uplifting Psalm, of which there are many. The rabbi replied that that until we start recognizing there are difficult passages in our scriptures that are needed to be held in balance (pertinent given that concerns are being increasingly identified around the impact of extremist religion on society) we won’t make progress in our better understanding of each others religion.
Not only does the Bible contain the words of God, it is the Word of God and, while I respect those from other religions, I do not regard their scriptures in the same way as I do the Bible (Old and New Testaments) and am not bound by their teachings. I recognize those who will agree with this statement yet disagree on my interpretation of the Bible, and there are some that give more prominence to things like church tradition and human reason. Some, despite holding Christian beliefs, do not regard such matters as important. I disagree for several reasons, not least in the light of today’s, often government led, anti-extremist agenda that might readily accommodate Christians expounding views on love and tolerance but frown upon notions of sin and judgment being promoted. The all too human tendency, which Christians are not immune to, is to cherry pick, and for Christians it may be those parts of scripture that happen to suit us. Often it gives extremists the licence to implement their extremist views and non extremists to be wishy washy and compromised. We must not do this, despite the temptation to do so.
I have seen two opposite tendencies among Christians that I find disturbing. There are some that react against and dismiss out of hand almost anything that doesn’t comply with their often narrow theological understanding and others that go out of their way to ingratiate themselves with and accommodate the views of an otherwise antipathetic public. While reluctant to propose a middle of the road view, I take exception with both of these two tendencies I have regularly observed, and believe there is a better way, which is also true to scripture. My own mission is to understand the Bible better, including the difficult passages, of which there are a lot more than those who attack Christianity for this very reason are even aware off, and try to come to a balanced view (e.g. see here). I also believe that what the Bible teaches should govern all what we think, say and do, and is why having a good understanding is so important.
There will be some, including among Christians or sympathetic toward Christianity, who may argue this is impossible. A big challenge and likely we will never get it all right this side of eternity, but there is no excuse for not trying to come to a true and balanced understanding. But for a starter – how about some words of Jesus? “The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” Mark 12:29-31.