Bible UnderstandingHow is your bible understanding? I don't mean just knowing facts about the Bible or memorizing verses or trivia. Do you understand the big principles, the overall picture and the important themes? Many people focus on Biblical contradictions and when they do this they are not trying to understand the Bible. Usually, they are approaching it from the other direction and attempting to disprove or discredit scripture. For correct Bible understanding, we need to approach it with the right attitude and to allow the Bible to interpret itself rather than imposing our own understanding. The Bible does often define its own terms either through usage or by directly saying, basically, "this is that." Properly resolving what seem to be contradictions will help greatly in understanding the Bible and giving confidence in its messages. This chapter will help you do that.
This is chapter 4 of the book Light on the Dark Side of God. If you have not read chapter 3, you might want to do that first to see what the Bible says about Jesus in the Grave"
How the Bible Explains Itself
"For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10)
Imagine, if you will, that you live in a land where the word "tooth" means "tree stump." If you journey to my world and attempt to get your tree stump uprooted, you might get some interesting looks when you ask, "May I use your tractor to uproot my tooth?" How much progress would you make with this project until you learn how to speak in the local tongue? Likewise, our difficulty in seeing the Bible picture of God is a language problem - a problem easily cleared up when some careful comparisons are made within Scripture.
In order to lay a foundation for discussing specific incidents of God's vengeance we must first look at some idiosyncrasies of Scripture which reveal how God expresses Himself. In so doing we shall delve into some related themes. These are not digressions. All the issues of redemption intersect in the character of God; therefore, touching on these related themes, besides showing some peculiarities of Scripture, will also help unravel the mystery of God's role in the destructive acts described in Scripture.
The abundance of these apparent paradoxes in Scripture says something about God's mind vital to the present topic. "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8,9). Public opinion rarely reflects the mind of God. Therefore, we should not be surprised to discover we have misunderstood in the arena of God's "vengeance" as in so many others.
Be careful here; this perspective could be carried to excess. Accept only what the Bible clearly supports. The point is we should not be shocked to find heavenly truth in reverse of popular ideas.
In view of "divine retribution" as Christ's life expressed it, we might well ask whether there is more to understand on this point as well. Does truth on this topic lie somewhere opposite the place we always thought?
Perhaps. Other Biblical idiosyncrasies bear upon this topic and demand notice.
Let us take as our first example a prominent argument in Christendom, the issue of how law (works/obedience) and grace (faith) apply to our salvation. Some groups say we are saved by grace through faith, basing their belief on such texts as:
Although Scripturally there can be no doubt God grants salvation as a free gift not contingent upon good deeds, the incomplete understanding of this truth has produced problems. It has fostered antinomianism, the idea that salvation hinges only upon accepting and professing Christ, and lifestyle (works) don't matter. Despite its apparently Scriptural basis, it doesn't take much imagination to see some problems with this view from a practical standpoint. Principally, it opens the door to spiritual anarchy and blurs the distinction between right and wrong, making them dependent upon individual interpretation.
On the other side of the picture we have this:
No one can say that the Bible does not stress works. The voice of God cries out in the Old Testament and New, admonishing His people to good works. And the works enjoined in Scripture require more than just being nice. They demand living against human nature, higher and better than humanly possible, as high in fact as the kingdom of God is higher than the kingdoms of this world. They demand a change of mind, a change of values, priorities, interests, a very dying to this world. In short, the works enjoined in Scripture cannot be done by humans. And there's the rub.
So here we have a classic Scriptural contradiction. And how do Christians deal with it and with other similar cases? Do they study through in the spirit of sincere inquiry and harmonize these issues? Usually, no. Rather, these apparent problems become the basis for argument, alienation and division within Christendom.
None of this need happen, if Christians determined to harmonize these apparent contradictions through earnest Bible study, allowing Scripture to be its own interpreter, until a clear picture emerges of the truth of the matter. What a blessed day it would be in Christendom, if we could meet together as brothers and sisters in the Lord and tackle these difficult topics in just that way!
Juxtaposing ideas sometimes helps to clarify; therefore, at this point we shall introduce a format that will become familiar as we move along.
Each reference represents an abundant body of Scripture saying the same thing. In this case we are fortunate in having a third set of references that harmonize this apparent contradiction:
Galatians 5:6 defines saving faith as a faith which "works" through a special kind of other-centered love called agape. Therefore, the works which humans cannot generate, in and of themselves, flow out of the life powered by genuine faith. When heaven looks at a life and sees the "beauty of holiness" expressed in reverence for God, sensitivity to others' needs and feelings, and the ability to rise above the harmful instincts of our human nature, they know Someone else lives there besides the human and His are the works they see. Paul in Galatians 2:16, KJV, calls this "the faith of Jesus Christ," or we might say, Jesus living out His life in the believer. This faith works, and the faith that works is the faith that saves.
The writings of Paul the apostle are sometimes heard to understand principally because we have not understood this dynamic, which forms the very core of his message.
How does God save? He saves humans in faith oneness with Himself; the works merely show that the union exists. When God sees more evidence of His Spirit than of us, walking in our shoes, He credits us with the history of our Companion, as He laid our history upon Him on Calvary so long ago. More than that, He changes our mind about everything the world and our own sinful nature have taught us and enables us to live the heavenly way, thus fitting us for eternal life in His kingdom.
The Role of Law
A kingdom, by definition, requires a foundational body of law to provide security to its citizens and to facilitate their interactions. God's kingdom is no exception. Whereas the Bible came principally from the hand of prophets, the simple and concise law governing His kingdom was too important to give to the world through human hands. With His own finger God carved its principles upon tables of stone, signifying their eternal permanence. It is true, God's presence in the human brings righteousness, but it is also true that while living in Him and still possessing free will, humans need a sin detector or standard of behavior to govern their decision making and to gauge whether they are living His way; that is, whether they are true fruit bearing branches of the living vine (John 15:1-8) or mere pretenders. And God graciously gave the world that standard in the ten commandments.
Recently some in the Congress of the United States endorsed their importance by trying to have the ten commandments hung in school rooms across the country. A controversial endeavor, yes, and particularly puzzling when so many professed Christians insist that the ten commandments were somehow cancelled, nailed to the cross, along with the ceremonial law of symbols and sacrifices. How are we to understand this theological schizophrenia?
Indeed, some Christians take the position that, because righteous works have no saving merit (which they do not), they have no use at all, and that the more contempt they place upon the law of God, the more commendable they are in His sight. It's hard to take that position seriously. In our world awash in sin and depravity can we afford to jettison God's law as a standard of responsible behavior?
These very Christians are often the first to appeal to the law-enforcement arm of civil governments to shore up the damage done by clergy, gravely derelict in their duty, who search Scripture with a microscope, as many have done, for missiles to hurl against the ten commandments, instead of thundering their eternal permanence from every pulpit in the land. What a confusing state of things! If a possibility existed that God's law could be set aside, would heaven not have seized upon it the moment sin entered, rather than surrendering its mighty Commander to die to atone for its transgression?
The ten commandments are actually a description of God's character (Compare Jeremiah 23:6 and 33:16 with Psalm 119:172 and Isaiah 51:7), and their purpose is to show us our need for Christ (Galatians 3:24), who shares with us His own righteousness. God is the origin and source of those ten principles. Thus, the ten commandments inform us, but the living Lord Our Righteousness enables us. He is the living law. If we would walk with Him, we must agree to let Him change us into His own likeness of character, in order to blend our characters into His own. When we walk in fellowship with Him, His ways, as set out in that holy law, seem beautiful and desirable. It takes converted eyes to see this; therefore, our attitude toward His ten commandments reveals whether or not we have been "born again" (John 3:3). It can be seen, then, that obedience to those ten principles is, ultimately, about protecting our relationship with God, not so much about being saved. As day by day we abide in Him, "being saved" takes care of itself.
Sabbath observance, at the very heart of God's law, symbolizes the reality of this experience in our lives (Exodus 31:12, 13; Ezekiel 20:12, 20). It means "rest" from leaning on our own works of righteousness. It is the ultimate symbol of re-creation, rest in the Lord and living by faith.
Further, we have seen what to do with Biblical contradictions. If we stack all the texts supporting Proposition A over here, and all the texts supporting Proposition B over there, the idea is not to take our pick and ignore the rest, as we are wont to do. Rather, knowing God does not contradict Himself, we continue studying until we resolve the issue into a unity of truth, until we see the full picture all the texts convey. In seeking to know the mind of God, until we have logically and Scripturally resolved evidence in contrast with our personal view, we cannot be sure we have arrived at truth, on which the weight of public opinion has no bearing whatsoever. What must God think of our failure to follow this simple plan?
Following are just a few of the perplexing apparent contradictions, which have puzzled students of Scripture for years. Studying them provides insight into the way God sometimes expresses Himself and reveals a principle we may use in understanding God's alleged dark side.
We have no Scriptural clarification on this point. Next question:
Again, we have no clarifying comment. We only know from Scripture that God punished David for this action (1 Chronicles 21:14), strongly suggesting that, as humans would express it, He had nothing to do with David's decision to initiate a census in Israel. But if God did not move David to "number Israel," why does He say He did?
Here God seems to take responsibility for things he did not actually do. Why? We have no clarifying Biblical comment.
No specific "counterpoint" statements exist for these nonetheless puzzling declarations:
While most of these statements express the problem, a few hint of a solution:
We have already noted that God did not execute Christ, but we still have that perplexing language stating He did. What can it mean? We shall now put these last two pairs on "hold" until the next chapter, since we must cover more background in order to better assess their bearing on the issue. However, let me at this point suggest a simple governing principle by which we may understand such statements. As we proceed, we shall test its validity:
Principle: God sees and describes Himself as doing what He does not prevent.
Since God could have prevented these incidents but chose not to do so, He depicts Himself as the actual instrument or performing agent. Note how often He describes them as His own doing in vivid, convincing terms. Yet we are justified, if they do not make sense in terms of the total picture or in terms of God's character as Christ expressed it, to wonder if He simply could have but didn't prevent it.
Why would God choose to so express Himself? His reason is not unknown in the human realm.
The Blame-taker vs. the Accuser
The story has a happy ending. In a matter of minutes he realized he had looked at the wrong report, which was not supposed to go anywhere, and he graciously apologized to me.
But even as it happened I saw something of God's mind when the boss took the blame. Maturity understands the importance of assuming responsibility, while immaturity blames everything and everyone in sight. Thus our supremely mature God makes Himself ultimately responsible for the results of granting His intelligent creatures free will, even to the extent of assuming blame for the numerous episodes of destruction attributed to Him in Scripture.
Our heavenly Father assures us He is in charge of His universe. As Creator of heavens and earth and Sustainer of life in the universe, He will never give Satan equal billing with Himself-will never point a finger and say, "He did it!" Since God could have prevented an incident but, out of respect for His creatures' free will, chose not to do so, He sees and describes Himself as doing it.
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