Has God made His word complicated?
Some time ago I had a discussion on Facebook in which I happened to say something that quickly ended the debate. What I said was that I didn’t think the Word of God was so difficult to understand and this was clearly a very provoking statement - so provoking that the person I was talking to did not want to continue. I am not trying to claim that there is nothing in the Word of God that don’t understand, but I do think we often make things more complicated than necessary.
When God speaks, He want’s to be believed! He does not speak in order for us to have something to discuss in a theological reflection forum, but many Christians do this when they don’t want to believe what the Word says. Instead of just believing what God said they seek to find all other possible explanations and this often makes the Word of God more complicated than necessary. Why not just believe that He simply said what He meant. Groups such as Jehova’s Witnesses go as far as to say that it’s dangerous to read the Word of God if one does not have the right tools, and even though evangelicals don’t go so far, more and more are moving in that direction. The question that then arises is “Who has the right tools?” or “Who has the right understanding?”, and the discussion begins. Or another important question is “Is the Bible enough?”. Can I give the Bible to someone and trust that the person can come to a right understanding of God. Can’t we just believe God? If I tell my daughter to do her homework, it is because I want her to do that homework. If she comes to me a little later, saying that she and her friends have started a small-group where they are discussing what it means to do homework, my first question will be: “But have you done your homework like I asked you to?” If she then answers that she has memorized what I had said by heart, and even studied the Greek meaning of the word “homework”, it will not impress me. My question will still be “have you done what I asked you to do?”. It would certainly be both easier and less time-consuming if she just sat down and did as I had said. When God in His Word asks us to do something we don’t really want to do, we often have a tendency to look for good excuses. Although we actually know what we should do, we hope that our excuse will justify our disobedience, but when God says something, He means it. Other times we try to explain away unpleasant truths because we don’t fully understand them - for example Jesus’ teaching about hell. I don’t think we will ever fully understand how terrible hell really is, and I wish no one would have to end up there. However, Jesus talks clearly about Hell and even if I don’t fulle understand it I still need to take His warnings seriously. I can find all possible theological explanations on what word Jesus used when He talked about hell, what the word meant and point out that this word was not used in the Old Testament – but that does not change what Jesus said. Shall we interpret, believe or obey? The problem is that many people would rather interpret the Bible than believe it - and many don’t want to believe unless they fully understand it. Many have no problem with explaining away passages that they don’t feel comfortable with and they do this in order to make Gods Word more relevant to the times we are living in – but God does not need to adjust to our times. In James’ epistle 1:17 it is written that in Him there is no changing shadow, or as Petter Dass says, “God is God, even if all countries were deserted. God is God even if everybody died.…”. Learning about the biblical culture can be educational and understanding the meaning of greek words and phrases can be helpful. But if we do this in an attempt to explain away Biblical truth we will end up in error. Although there are things in the Word of God that can be difficult to understand, the message of the Bible is clear. It only becomes difficult when we try to interpret it with our heads instead of our hearts. The Pharisees were known as those who understood the Scripture. They were the theologians of those times and had spent many years studying the Scripture, but Jesus’ message to them was as follows:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. — John 5:39-40
We should absolutely study the Word of God, but studying in itself must not be the main goal. If we don’t live out what we learn, our Bible study will be meaningless. God’s main purpose in giving us His Word was not for us to have a collection of historical facts or a source from which we can form theological doctrines. Today there are many who go to a Bible school in order to learn more about the Bible – an that is fine. But if they are not planning to practice what they learn they should rather find something else to do. God wants us to know Him God wants to reveal Himself to us so that we can get to know Him. He has created us and He knows what will make us happy. That is why He gave us His Word so that we can get to know Him and live as He wants us to. You are not always going to understand Him, because He is much bigger than we can comprehend with our understanding. However, if you believe in Him, you will obey Him, even when you don’t understand Him. That’s what faith is all about. You don’t need to understand what someone says to believe them. If you trust the person, you believe them even though you don’t fully understand what they say. For example I don’t fully understand how a computer works, but I have learned to use it. As long as I do what I have learned, it will help me whether I understand how it works or not. It can be educational to learn more about how a computer works, but I don’t need to understand everything about its functions in order to be able to use it. Jesus said that we must repent and become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3), and one of the things that characterize children is that they have an ability to believe things they don’t understand if Mummy or Daddy says so. This is the relationship God wants us to have with Him. He wants us to celebrate our faith and trust in Him and His Word.