After my #soulspresso talk on Live a Life of Spiritual Love not Spiritual Rules I had a friend send me this question:
A church that I’ve attended for years has a leader who is homosexual. A person recently told me they would ‘never’ attend this church because the leader was a sinner who was continuing to sin. What are your thoughts on homosexuality in the church & that individual being a leader within the church? I say we are not to judge individuals by the choice of their lifestyle….it’s between that individual & God. Would you attend a church where a church leader continues to sin?
Many people of faith face this question or something like it. There are many ways you can frame my friend’s concern. “Is homosexuality a sin?’ “What do I do about something that people disagree about regarding if it’s a sin?” “What should be the requirements for a church leader?” “How much or what kind of sins do we allow in church leaders or church members?” “What does the Bible say about this?”
Although I could go into pretty deep theological discussions about all of those questions, I want to instead focus on one deeper question that underlies all those questions for people of faith: How Does God Guide Us Through the Bible?
Even that question has questions behind it, but ones that I think all people of faith agree on, namely…
Is there a God? (Yes)
Does God desire to guide us? (Yes)
Does God use the Bible to guide us? (Yes)
If you answer “Yes” to those three questions, then your next question becomes “If I believe all that, then how does God guide me through the Bible?”
For most people of faith, the answer at first seems simple: “Well, you read the Bible to find out what God says about stuff and that lets you know what to do.” But as we touched on yesterday, people of sincere love for God can have very different opinions about what the Bible says about different topics.
Two theologians of identical towering intellect & identical deep love for God can argue two views that are completely opposite of each other, both using the same Bible to prove their point. And even if theologians “agree to disagree” on some points of theology, they can’t even agree on what they can agree on, still using the Bible to justify what they see as plain and true.
This total inability for different men of God to agree about the Bible is a plain fact that you can’t get squirm around no matter how hard you try. So, if men who have devoted their lives to studying the Bible, reading it through dozens of times in the original languages and poring over hundreds of books of theology can’t agree, where does that leave you and me, we who believe that there is a good and loving God who does use the Bible to guide us?
The answer for me is that the Bible works best if we see it as a guide book, not a rule book. If I’m visiting a foreign city, I’ll buy and use a guidebook. Will it help me prepare for my visit? Yes. Will it tell me some important sights I don’t want to miss, and maybe some areas of town that I should avoid? Yes.
But can I expect it to tell me what’s on every street corner in the city? No, of course not. Will it tell me what route to take in downtown traffic at 3pm next Thursday? Wouldn’t expect it to. What if a restaurant changed managers last week and the food which used to be great is now terrible? Even the best guidebook in the world can’t tell me about something that happened after it was printed.
I believe that the Bible is a guidebook that helps us understand the heart of God when we are willing to open our hearts and minds to see it that way. I think when we look at the Bible as a concrete rulebook where every page applies equally, absolutely, and infalliably to every person in every time, I think then the Bible fails us, because that is not what God meant for it to be and do.
I had to face this when my first marriage fell apart. I knew that my strict reading of the Bible as a concrete rulebook said that no matter how terrible any marriage was, that it was God’s will and God’s best. But, both from my personal experience and that of many of my friends, I knew that absolutely could not be true. I knew that the Bible as a concrete rulebook said that any sexual love outside of heterosexual marriage was an abomination to God. And yet I knew good people who loved God deeply that showed me that that could not be true. As I examined more and more of what the Bible as concrete rulebook said, the more I became convinced that there was a deeper, truer way of using the Bible, that of using the Bible as a guide to the heart of God.
Now, I have people who are my cherished friends who don’t agree with me on this, and that’s their path to walk. If Bible as concrete rulebook is your path, then walk your path with God, be blessed, go in peace. I have no wish to argue with you or try to convince you of anything. Even if you judge me as wrong, even if you judge that I’m going to hell because of how I view the Bible, be blessed, go in peace.
But I truly believe the heart of God and the path of God is not revealed through rules, but through love, and that the Bible serves us best as we see it not as a set of God’s rules, but as a guide and a path to God’s love.