Jesus Said What?

Sometimes I want to choke people to death. This isn’t actually as big of a problem as it used to be. I lived for a very long time (we’re talking decades here) on the constant verge of homicide. I got so used to simply wanting to kill someone that I didn’t even realize how angry I’d been until I wasn’t angry anymore. Releasing that kind of anger is kind of like putting down the Empire State Building. Still, there are times when I just want to throttle some poor bastard. It’s not random anymore though. I don’t walk down the street and suddenly want to grab someone and beat them to death. Now it’s specific things that set me off. Plagiarism tends to be one of them, but another is when people take scripture completely out of context.

Honestly, I’m not going to say that this is a Christian response. Not even remotely, but that doesn’t keep me from wanting to leap across the table and tear a man’s arms off when he tells me that Jesus said that we shouldn’t judge anyone after I’ve just confronted him for cheating on his wife. However, something that possibly makes me even madder than people taking scripture out of context is people accusing others of taking scripture out of context when they haven’t.

I have a friend… we’ll call him John. John has a bad habit of accusing people of taking scripture out of context whenever he disagrees with them. For instance, the arguments that Christians should be charitable to the needy are met with a derisive, ‘that’s out of context’. My response to this… ‘No, no, Jesus actually said that we should take care of the poor, and he even said that we should give to our enemies, I can show you.’ See, I’m growing.

My friend isn’t the only one who does this. All too often, instead of actually looking at the text and seeking to understand what it says and why someone might interpret it the way they do, we simply react to any position that doesn’t match our personal worldview with the claim that it must be out of context. People do take scripture out of context… a lot… for instance, Paul’s famous “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in Philippians 4:13 does not mean that I can be president someday. Paul says this in the context of adapting to, and being joyful in, various circumstances. For instance, because Christ strengthens me I can be joyful even when I’m unemployed. Because Christ strengthens me I can respond in love even when someone makes me angry.

There are thousands of cases of this, and to some degree we all take things out of context. Ideally, our hermeneutic (i.e. interpretation of scripture) should 1) be good (duh…) and 2) determine our theology, and our theology should determine how we live. All too often our lifestyle determines our theology, and our theology determines our hermeneutic. We are, all of us, blithering idiots on the verge of complete mental collapse, and it is only grace that keeps us marginally sane and capable of rational thought (… ok, that’s probably a little bit too far. Still, we all have our idiotic moments).

However, the fact that people do take scripture out of context doesn’t mean that everyone who disagrees with me is taking scripture out of context. Amazingly enough, I have found that I am not the final arbiter of proper hermeneutic and theology (almost put them in the wrong order there). I might have my beliefs, but my beliefs don’t determine what scripture says, and I need to keep this very, very close to the top of my bubbling cesspool of a brain or I go completely wonky and decide that I should be the emperor of all mankind. Needless to say, that would be a bad thing.

How many times do we wish, ‘If only everyone were more like me’. Because apparently I’m… what? The second coming of Christ? The goal of mankind, Christians especially, shouldn’t be to be more like me, or more like you. The goal is to be more like Christ. My goal should be to be more like Christ, and allowing the scriptures to shape my theology (instead of allowing my theology to shape the scriptures) is a major part of that process.

Scripture is a living, breathing thing, and (while it is not the only way that God communicates with his people) God speaks to us consistently through scripture. The meaning of various passages seems to change as I mature in my faith, and suddenly I see things that weren’t there before. This is normal. It’s called the devotional hermeneutic and it’s one of the ways that God speaks to you. Note that I said speaks to you there, not speaks to the Church, or provides us with elements of doctrine. What you get out of the devotional hermeneutic doesn’t apply to anyone else. It is God speaking to you (… oh, and if it contradicts what scripture says, then it probably isn’t God. For instance, if you read ‘I tell you that if you lust, you have committed adultery’ and think that God is telling you to go commit adultery, you’re wrong).

We all need to be less concerned about what we think a verse or passage means, and about proving everyone else wrong. We should be much more concerned with letting God use the scriptures to shape us in the way that he desires. Yes, there are people out there who get it wrong. Guess what, if God wants them out of the way, it isn’t exactly hard for him to make that happen. After all, he’s God. He doesn’t need you or me to protect him.

Well… that turned into a little bit of a rant there didn’t it. I hope you get something out of this. If not, well… I would say ‘sorry’, but honestly I don’t really think I am. I said at the beginning that this was going to be my journal, which means that you’re probably going to have to deal with rants every now and then.

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