I’m a fan of a line I’ve heard the evangelist Mario Murillo use: “I love sacred cows. They taste delicious.” Today we’re going to serve up some sacred cows and see if he’s right.
Speaking of which, have you noticed that we are all so sure that we’re right? We have spent so many years building our worldview that, when we take a step away to look at it, we don’t see the cracks, the missing pieces, the chinks in the facade. Instead our chests swell with pride, and we say, “This is mine. And it is right.” We don’t like it when our fortress is threatened, either, so we wheel out the big guns to defend it.
I’ve done it. Have you? I bet you have, even if you don’t realize it.
Between 1618 and 1648 there was a great war called The Thirty Years’ War. It was one of the most destructive and bloody wars in western history. This war was carried out for a variety of reasons, but one of the sparks that started it came from the conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Both sides said the other was going to hell, and the early combatants were only too eager to send their opponents there as swiftly as possible. (1)
Why do I bring up this bloody, dark conflict? Am I trying to make Christians feel guilty, as so many others have tried to do? No. Not at all. What I’m trying to show is that, regardless of our belief system, these feelings of rightness and wrongness still abound in our own hearts today. Even if we don’t always go to war over them now.
I think this can come down, in a sense, to two different Christian evangelists. One evangelist lives and breathes to show people the love of God, and to help them experience it. The other declares that if you don’t follow his belief system then you are going to Hell (probably with his message emblazoned on a large cardboard sign.) What are the big differences between these two men? Obviously, love is a big one. (Though the second would say he does what he does for love.) But the second is what the person is ultimately trying to do. The first is trying to help people, and give them a better way to live. But the second is expounding that his belief system – his particular, nuanced worldview – is the way, the truth and the life.
How many churches decry fellow churches because they worship differently? How many fellow believers spew hate because others think and practice differently? How many times have we condemned others outside of our own group because they were outside?
I heard two people talking recently about baptism. One person said that the physical act of baptism is an essential part of salvation. The other person said baptism was an outward sign of being buried with Christ, but someone could still be saved without it. Who is right?
Do deathbed conversions matter? What if a person dies before she is baptized? Are there allowances? What about where the Bible says that “Baptism… now saves you…”? (2) What about Cornelius and his household, who received the Holy Spirit before they were baptized? (3)
Some churches speak in tongues. Are they being gripped by an outward manifestation of a demon? Some churches don’t speak in tongues. Are they devoid of the Spirit and incapable of truly following or experiencing God?
There are churches who say that we are predestined. There are others who say we live exclusively by free will. And they can often turn on each other when these views clash.
I personally have seen too many times when I have known God was guiding something and that it was His plan. I’m going to be honest: I can’t imagine how my life would have gone if I hadn’t gotten cancer. Many would practically call it blasphemy for me to imply what I just did in that last sentence. But I also know I’ve made my own choices many times, and that others are waiting for a word from God when God just wants them to make a choice.
I’ve been told many times that I got cancer because of the objects in my house and the darkness in my own life. I’ve been told I got it because of what I eat, or what I don’t eat. I’ve been told I got it from my family genetics. I’ve been told I got cancer because it was God’s plan, and I’ve been told I got cancer because it was the work of Satan.
Who is right?
I heard a radio interview between a young earth creationist and a wonderful man I follow named Hugh Ross. (4) They were talking about the age of the earth and the age of the universe. The interviewer said, “So let me ask you, what does this really matter? In the grand scheme of things, how important is this?” Hugh Ross answered quickly(I paraphrase), “It doesn’t. It’s just interesting, and it’s a wonderful tool to discuss the love of God with other people.” His opponent then piped up (I paraphrase again), “I disagree. I believe that everything rides on this, and that if you don’t believe this way your salvation is at risk.” I could visualize him pulling his cardboard sign out of his backpack.
Why do we hardline on one side or the other of a paradox when the answer is very probably “yep”?
There is mystery in this world. It is all around us. We see through a glass darkly, and we won’t cease to do so in this world. Many scientists seek a theory of everything, but should they find it they will then find their bubble pricked by the next great discovery. We can keep on in our surety that we have all of the answers, and that our truth is THE truth. Or we can choose to embrace the mystery. We can choose to judge and be judged, or we can choose instead to love.
When we get to Heaven, I think we will laugh when we see how much of what we held as our most cherished beliefs are straw men and frauds. Why not admit we don’t know it all now, and allow that others could have something to add to us rather than opposing us?
As someone who has been on both sides of the divide, I can tell you which side I’m choosing: I choose to embrace the otherworldly, intangible, unknowable Mystery.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (5)
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (6)