What issues are you chasing?
The other day my son and I read Henry’s Awful Mistake. Henry the duck sees an ant in his house and proceeds to do whatever he can to get rid of the ant without spoiling the dinner that is cooking for his date. He busts a hole in the wall, bursts a water line and ultimately floods his entire house in his attempt to kill this ant. All this for a single ant!
When it comes to our faith these days, we find ourselves spending a lot of time chasing little ants around. Many people in our world, Christians and not, recognize (and create) many biblical “gray areas.” From drinking to homosexuality to the end times, these stir up controversy and infighting among many Christian groups. Words like “heretic” fly around as everyday language.
When we get passionate about an issue, we tend to forget about relationships during our campaign for the issue. We’re willing to wreck the whole house when it comes to relationships, as long as we make sure we kill the ant and get people on our side of the issue. This is not new. From abortion clinic bombings to unjust wars, people throughout history have gone so far as killing on behalf of their issue.
When it comes to biblical gray areas, Christians wage war on each other in the private and public arena and on non-Christians in the political arena—all for an issue. Meanwhile, relationships with God and others are being burst like a water line.
Is this the purpose of the Bible—issues?
We want the Bible to be a set of specific rules that bring clarity to every moral and ethical dilemma. The Bible is certainly our authority on moral and ethical issues. But if the Bible is only useful to us in this regard, then we’ve missed the point.
Our God is our lawgiver, but this is not the basic nature of God. God’s nature can be found in the Trinity: God is relationship-builder. I believe our Confession of Faith rightly says in Article 1 that, “the Trinitarian doctrine is the basis for an emphasis on the relational nature of God. God is relational. God is community.” The primary purpose of the Bible is not as a moral guide but as a relational guide. Instead, the purpose of the Bible’s moral and ethical teaching is to build right relationships with God and others.
The Sermon on the Mount is a telling example. After a recent, closer reading of Matthew 5-6, I realized a new purpose behind Jesus’ call to a higher standard of the Torah, the Law. Jesus is calling us to focus on relationships, not the letter of the law. The result is a higher moral and ethical standard for our lives. Of course we’re not supposed to murder, Jesus tells us. Murder isn’t good for relationships! But neither is holding a grudge against another, for grudges murder relationships.
The Sermon on the Mount is more about our relationship with God and others than about following a set of rules. When we focus on relationships, our moral and ethical standards for ourselves will become higher and higher.
I’ve learned a thing or two from Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-6. The next time I find myself feeling strongly about a biblical gray area, I need to remember that I do not have the right to get out my hammer and start pounding away until “they” get it. And each of us knows who our “they” are. Instead, growth in my relationship with God gives me the opportunity to grow in my relationship with “them.”
A friend of mine recently did this. Instead of taking her hammer to her friend with whom she disagreed on an issue, she took her listening ears. They sat down together, and they told each other their stories—why they feel the way they do and what motivates their viewpoint. My friend listened. And she shared. She did it without judging, becoming angry or preaching.
The two women both left the meeting without having changed viewpoints. But my friend approached the relationship with the Bible in her heart, not the Bible in one hand and the hammer in the other. If she had done the latter, I’m sure the relationship would not have continued.
This month, may we read the Bible with relationships in mind, not issues. May we enter into relationships with the “theys” in our lives with whom we don’t see eye to eye. And may we bring our listening ears and God’s words in our hearts, not our hammer. Maybe then we won’t wreck the whole house.