Friday, May 15, 2009

Asking the Right Questions

Ever notice that the issues that divide Christians often have very little to do with our walk of faith? Usually they pertain to how God does his job. For example, we all agree that God created the world. Will my faith be deeper and stronger if I believe that it took him a literal six days than if I believe it took millions of years? Or is it good enough that I know who created it, that he made me in his image, and how evil entered the world? Is it possible that the story of creation tells us everything we need to know and no more?

Calvinists and Arminians have always squabbled and probably always will. But if Future Grace by John Piper represents Calvinism, there's very little practical difference between the two camps, because I agree with almost all of it, and I'm an Arminian. The only real differences between Calvinism and classical Arminianism are different interpretations of predestination and disagreement about whether Christians can lose their salvation or if they were never really saved if they fall away. But if a Christian is ultimately lost, what difference does it make if he or she was ever saved? It is a theoretical question. And so is the issue of predestination. Again it has to do with how God does his job. Our job is to go out into the world and make disciples of every nation. (Matthew 28:19)

The Problem of Evil is a biggie--we can talk about that one all day for the rest of our lives and still not reach a definitive conclusion. But if the Bible doesn't fully explain it, that must mean we don't need to understand it. And we don't. If you look at the whole Bible in context, you'll see that it's all about how we are to overcome evil with good. When God became Man, he spent his entire ministry overcoming evil, culminating in the cross, where he defeated it decisively. We are to follow in his footsteps, empowered by his Spirit.

Matthew 25 gives us a hint of what Judgment Day will look like, and as far as I can make out, there will be no theology exam. It shows us that Paul was right when he said that the only thing that counts is faith working through love, because we will be judged by our sins of omission. What did we do for the least of these? If I believe all the right things about God, but I don't have love, it will profit me nothing on that day. So why do we waste time bickering about things that God in his sovereignty has chosen not to reveal?

The Bible is an amazing book. People say that it's inconsistent, but it is actually remarkably consistent about everything we need to know. All the necessary pieces fit together perfectly. And God wants us to search out those profound truths that light our path. He delights to reveal himself to us if our goal is to walk more closely with him. If I focus on what I need to know, it will keep my mind fully engaged, because truth of every kind flourishes along that path. But there are some questions that are unsearchable, and for that reason Christians will always disagree. Why not try to preserve the unity where possible by deciding not to get too hung up on theoretical questions? Let's pick the battles that really matter.

Will we fight to the death for a literal translation of Genesis 1 and ignore the words of our Lord about forgiveness of others in Matthew 6:14-15, Matthew 18:35, Mark 11:26? If we do not forgive, God will not forgive us. And without God's forgiveness, where are we? The Bible makes it very clear that forgiveness from the heart is not optional for a believer.

By no means am I saying that we should dismiss what is not practical. Nor am I challenging the inerrancy of the Scriptures. But are we guilty of straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel? (Matthew 23:24) Some things are just beyond human understanding, but that doesn't stop simple believers from walking closely with God in faith. In fact, I can see them way up ahead of me on the path when I'm off in the woods splitting theological hairs.

I am convinced that the Bible is never accidentally opaque or inconsistent. John 21:18-23 illustrates that God has very definite ideas about what we need to know and what we don't. After Jesus told Peter how he would die to glorify God, Peter asked, "Lord, and what about [John]?" Jesus replied, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!"

And the Bible tells us everything we need to know to obey that command.

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