What a divisive world we live in. Is it getting worse? Or has it always been this way and I just notice it more now?? We fight about everything – and now we have computers to hide behind. We get into soul-sucking arguments with people we will never meet face to face!
There was a controversial story this week when someone used a Bible verse to support public policy. I’m sure you heard about it. The country reacted – and the Bible became a tool used by people with differing opinions to support their opinions. Sure, this happens all the time. But the difference is that this particular discussion was played out in mainstream media. Here’s the problem… for many, these are no longer discussions. We pick sides, we separate and divide, and we fail to listen to anyone who thinks differently. We instantly lash out with anger and vitriol; the discussion is heated before it even begin! Is it the media’s fault? Social media? I’m guilty of it myself, and unfortunately have no answers to fix our societal problem.
Over a year ago, I took an online course about faith and money. We read a text, “Sharing Possessions: What Faith Demands” written by Luke Timothy Johnson, a scholar, professor and former priest. In the introduction, Johnson stated that our approach to reading Scripture should be “reading with faith.” Scripture is not locked in the past; when we read it we must declare: “Speak, Lord, for your Servant is listening.” Johnson then spent nearly 20 pages providing multiple examples of how the Bible is not definitive in addressing how we handle wealth and possessions.
This would create panic in some Christians! If the Bible provides different lines of thought about money, how can I find validity in any point of view? And how is this applied to other areas where the church has declared some definitive stance? And where does all of this fall for a God who told us that through Jesus there is a new command: to love?
Johnson’s text was a reminder that the Bible is not a rule-book. While it does offer guidance on how we are called to live in this world, the Bible alone is not an end-all, definitive set of rules telling us exactly how to handle each life situation. As much as some of us might want a perfect instruction book, it is not that easy – the world is too complex for this to be so! Instead, we are called to listen with an open heart and mind to hear God’s Spirit actively working in and around us. Once we acknowledge this, we are free to live as God calls us to live, seeking God at work in our lives and the lives of others – all day, every day. We then yearn to use the Bible not as a weapon, but as a means of understanding God. Through stories, through parable, through watching how Jesus, God as human, lived in the world and interacted with others, we understand and discern God’s call.
We – and by we I mean all of God’s children around the world – come from different backgrounds. Our life experience and core beliefs lead us to different and often divisive opinions about how to live out our faith in the world. Reading Scripture and spending intentional time seeking the Spirit at work in the world invites us to dig in deeper; apply our own unique life circumstance, to seek real relationship with God and others instead of simply following a rule defined in a book.
This variety can be helpful if we allow it to deepen relationship. But we as church in the world know that ambiguity creates division. When everyone creates their own interpretation, they will defend it! Unfortunately, we rarely come together to listen and understand the opinion and perspective of others. Right now, in this world which seems to move towards more conflict, this is what those who declare to be followers of Christ must preach loudly! We must not allow our use of the Bible to create division, but grab on to our commonality as children of a Creator, called to live in love!