I, like most people, probably, eschew labels. I think people should be free, including free to do things that I see as wrong. I think we have a responsibility to the poor which includes saying that if a person won’t work, he or she shouldn’t eat. That puts me in opposite corners with both leanings. I was raised in the “Christian Church and Churches of Christ” tradition, which has fought for a long time not to have a label, and has, therefore, ended up with a long one. Because of that tradition, if you accept Jesus and I have any say in what happens next, it will involve water. Still, I can’t comfortably lump myself in with that group because I think if you get shot while learning about baptism, you go to Heaven. Nowadays, I go to a church where people speak in tongues, and do so myself, but I don’t like to be called a “Charismatic” or “Pentecostal” since I feel like that lumps me in with people who think we go to Heaven in shifts (some go in the Rapture, and come back, others don’t get to go until after the millennium) or spend too much time yelling at the Devil instead for talking to God. I believe the Bible is the literal, inspired word of God, but I don’t really like being called a “fundamentalist.” Those guys blow up buildings, don’t they? I prefer to learn from people with whom I disagree.
Part of the reason I don’t like to be called a Fundamentalist is that it tends to be the Fundamentalists who also make the above statement about the Bible. “The Bible says it, and that’s all there is to it.” The implication is that there is no room for meditation, contemplation, or even understanding. The relationship between me and God becomes purely mechanistic, like the relationship between me the writers of the operating manual for my toaster.
There are so many problems with this point of view I don’t even know where to start. First of all, it doesn’t work. I could get all into Aristotelian discussions of ethos or Ciceronian discussions of government or Locke’s discussion of when we break social contracts, but I won’t. Let’s look at contemporary business literature. In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Effective People, habits 2 (Begin with the end in mind), 3 (put first things first) and 5 (Seek to understand) would all be banished if we looked at the world this way. We wouldn’t know what the end is. We wouldn’t know what things are to be put first (all things seem to be equal). Most importantly, we wouldn’t be able to understand. We know that in businesses where critical thinking is squelched, the business breaks down. We know that in countries where there is no right of dissent corruption persists. Study after study has shown that in families where rules are made without explanation the children are worse off than if they’d grown up without rules. “The Bible says it and that’s enough for me” attitude is one that would inculcate habits of ineffective people. I don’t think that’s what God wants.
Secondly, it ruins relationships with God. For most of us, God doesn’t speak to us in audible voices. It can happen; I’m sure. There are about five people I trust who have heard the audible voice of God. There are bunches more who I don’t know well enough to trust. God’s never spoken to me in an audible voice, and I don’t think he often does to others. Still, God speaks to us and we speak to him, we have a conversation. At least we should. Relationships aren’t built around giving arbitrary information. Relationships are built around giving and receiving information around the asking of questions. That’s how we come to know each other’s hearts, by asking “why?” It is the question that I feel God asking me as I make my requests known unto Him. Me: “God, I need a new car.” Him: “Why?” Of course, God knows why I want a new car. He wants a relationship with me, and He wants to search my heart with me, so He asks. God: “Thou shalt not steal.” Me: “Why?” Over time, He answers. That is what God wants from us. He wants a relationship. He doesn’t want automatons programmed to obey. He wants friends who grow to love Him as we learn more about Him. That’s what relationship is. That’s what love is. If I were to sum up what loving someone really is, it would be asking that person “why?”
The worst problem with this is that the Word of God disagrees with it. One of my favorite verses in the bible is Daniel 10:12 when an angel appears to Daniel and tells him “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.” God wants us to try to understand. Isaiah 1:18 tells us what the rest of the book will be about saying “come let us reason together.” God doesn’t lay down the law. He invites us to talk about the law together.
But didn’t God lay down the law? On stone tablets no less. Sure, but look carefully at that story. You’ll find that they weren’t originally given that way. In Exodus 20, God spoke in an audible voice and gave the 10 Commandments orally. When that happened, the people freaked out. They didn’t want a real relationship with a real God. They basically told Moses “We’ll have a relationship with you. You have one with God.” So then Moses went and got the stone tablets. God would have, and did, explained “why” for each of these things, but people didn’t want to get to know God.
So, God had to be sneaky. Maybe you could argue that from Moses’ protégé, Joshua, to Samuel, God sort of did have an “I said it you do it” relationship with His people, but I think if we look at examples like Gideon’s fleece throwing, we’d see that this isn’t really the case. God wanted to be questioned. He didn’t want to be rebelled against, but He wanted to explain Himself. Once we hit Samuel (assuming Samuel wrote Judges), it is like the floodgates are open. Not only do we start getting historical books written that show what happens when one does and doesn’t follow God’s suggestions, thus explaining why. We also get outright philosophy being written, explaining the reasons behind the commands. The Psalms (mostly written by Samuel’s protégé, David) and then Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (both mostly written by David’s son, Solomon) are not lists of do’s and don’ts at all. They are explanations as to why what was already written.
They were the answers to questions put to God.
It doesn’t say anywhere in the Bible that the Bible is sometimes wrong. That’s not what I’m claiming either. I also don’t think that one should rebel against authority simply because it is authority. What I am saying is that what God wants from us is a relationship. He wants obedience, but not blind obedience. He wants to explain Himself to us. He wants us to come to know Him.
Note: When I sat down to write this blog, it was going to be about undocumented immigration. That’s sure not where this went.