Monique and I have been enjoying the writing of an Asian-American pastor out of San Francisco, Francis Chan.
We’ve been touched by the simplicity, honesty and power of this man’s words. (Relishing truth wherever it exists are, of course, central to our own Mormon faith – as something Joseph Smith and Brigham Young both taught).
I’ve recently appreciated Francis’ teaching about what happens when we come into personal conflict or disagreement with God. From the introduction to his latest book, he reflects on the larger conversations happening around Christianity (starting here at 2:58):
Maybe the thing I’m most concerned about is this arrogance – look, in Isaiah 55 God says “Your thoughts are not like my thoughts and your ways are not as my ways.” He says, “as high as the heavens are above than the earth, that’s how much higher my ways are than your ways – and that’s how higher my thoughts are than your thoughts.”
So when we begin an argument with, “well, I wouldn’t believe in a God who would….who would what? Do something you wouldn’t do? Or think in a way that’s different from the way that you think?
Do you ever consider the possibility that maybe the Creator’s sense of justice is actually more developed than yours? And that maybe his love and his mercy are perfect – and that you could be the one that is flawed?
See, when we make statements like “well, God wouldn’t do this would he?” Do you understand, in that moment you’re actually putting God’s actions in submission to your reasoning. You’re in essence saying, ‘well God wouldn’t think that way or act that way because I wouldn’t act that way or think that way. And yet if – when I read the scriptures, man all through this book, I’m like, ‘God – there are things you say that I wouldn’t think to say. There are things you do that I wouldn’t think to do.
Chan then repeats a number of examples in scripture of instances completely at odds with how he thinks. Then he continues:
Look, there are a lot of things in this book that I go, ‘wow, God – you did that. You thought that. I wouldn’t think that. And I wouldn’t have done that. But when I come to those passages – and when you come to those passages, does it even enter your mind that maybe he knows something that you don’t? Or is it always – ‘I have this ability to reason. And I have this level of morality…and so something in him must be off or I won’t believe in him.’
I know there are things that I want desperately to be true. And I also know that there’s a part of me that thinks God ought to do things a certain way – and I don’t want to put him under me. I want to be honest and say ‘look, here’s all that God has written. I don’t want to draw any conclusion that aren’t there. I don’t want to read into it too much. I just want to present this fairly – and I don’t want to misrepresent him.
He concludes, “It’s good that you discuss these things – but do it with humility. Confess. Pray. Fast. And study diligently on this one – because we can’t afford to be wrong.”
When Francis was recently asked about sexuality questions, he reiterates: “So before we get to what this book actually says, I have to say, ‘would you surrender? I mean, if you disagree with God on an issue – would you submit to him? I really believe that’s the core issue here. I really think we jump to [discussion of sexuality] too quickly, rather than saying – at the core of your being, do you believe in a Creator? And if He is your Creator, would you surrender to whatever He would ask you to do?”
He continues, “And then, if so – and that’s the kind of person I want to be as well – let’s look at this book [the Bible] together. Because a lot of following Jesus is to deny yourself, picking up your cross and following me…it’s about not doing very much some of the things you very much want to do. That’s a major part of following Jesus.”
And he concludes, “Maybe I’m wrong about some of this – I’m just a human being, I’m going to be off on things. If your interpretation is different than that, help me see that – in scripture. Let’s study this book together – and you tell me, what does it say?” (Watch the full clip here)
These teachings, of course, could be applied in a way that challenges the confidence of Church leaders or orthodox members in their interpretation of scripture. I don’t have a problem with that interpretation – and appreciate truth that acts as an “equal opportunity challenger.”
Imagine a conversation where we both acknowledged the potential of being wrong – of the need to keep searching. To keep listening…and to stay open to the wild possibility that there is more for both of us to learn.
If we believe in God, I’m not sure how we can talk in any other way.
N.T. Wright puts it nicely here: “you will discover that the Bible will not let you down. You will be paying attention to it; you won’t be sitting in judgement over it. But you won’t come with a preconceived notion of what this or that passage has to mean if it is to be true. You will discover that God is speaking new truth through it. I take it as a method in my biblical studies that if I turn a corner and find myself saying, ‘Well, in that case, that verse is wrong’ that I must have turned a wrong corner somewhere. But that does not mean that I impose what I think is right on to that bit of the Bible. It means, instead, that I am forced to live with that text uncomfortably, sometimes literally for years (this is sober autobiography), until suddenly I come round a different corner and that verse makes a lot of sense; sense that I wouldn’t have got if I had insisted on imposing my initial view on it from day one.”
Source: “How can the Bible be authoritative?” http://ntwrightpage.com/2016/07/12/how-can-the-bible-be-authoritative/