Wednesday, October 15, 2014

How long will you wait for your experience to match up with the bible?

Image source.

Did God really say...?


Three interesting and sort-of related posts I've read recently:

Facing the Music with Jennifer Knapp, by Trevin Wax. Wax reviews Knapp's memoir about "her painful childhood, her passion for music, her career in CCM, and her journey 'coming out' as gay." Though Wax has a lot of appreciation for Knapp's music and the themes she expresses, one big point of criticism is that, apparently for Knapp, "experience trumps everything else." Wax writes:
What becomes clearer and clearer as the narrative progresses is that Jennifer Knapp was never comfortable with the teachings of Scripture that counter contemporary sensibilities. For example, she never believed Jesus is the only way to salvation. Although she expresses gratitude for the compassion she has experienced through Christ, she never ceases to see Him as merely a way to the divine. Her personal faith journey is not a story of repentance and adherence to Christian truth but of quelling her own inner turmoil, learning to be at peace with God and with herself, no longer humiliated by imperfections and hounded by pressure to conform.
The beautiful emphasis on personal experience with God runs into the rocks of orthodox beliefs about who this God is. Many evangelicals would like to hold onto both, but when experiential faith and doctrinal belief come into conflict, experience often wins. Within this framework, reading Scripture is simply another means to a personal goal, and experience becomes the arbiter of truth. The Bible is no longer the authoritative interpreter of our experiences; our experiences are the authoritative interpreter of Scripture.

(I have my doubts on whether Knapp would agree with this description of her perspective on Scripture.)

The second blog post is Is God arbitrary? (my point of contention with conservative evangelicals) by Morgan Guyton. Guyton claims that conservative evangelical Christians have a view which requires God to be "arbitrary" in some sense- to give commands for seemingly no reason, and if we question the purpose of those commands, we are being rebellious and "humanist" and thinking that we know more than God. Guyton totally disagrees with this view- he says "Because I believe that God is perfectly benevolent, I presume that everything God asks us to do is for our own good, whether collectively or individually."

In particular, Guyton criticizes the way that conservative Christians approach issues like sexuality and gender roles. They hold to a traditional view because they believe that's what God said, and it cannot be changed when people point out the harm that those beliefs do to actual human beings. Guyton says, "What makes me so angry about this is the way that the sovereignty of God is effectively being worked out on the backs of queer people."

The third post is “Because I said so”: Epistemic Access, Our Current Moral Debates, and a Trustworthy God by Derek Rishmawy. Rishmawy argues that, as human beings, we are in no position to claim that God allows suffering with no purpose, because our understanding of the world is negligible compared to God's. (Pretty much what God said in Job 38-41.) He uses the analogy of a toddler's parents setting rules which the toddler cannot understand. "This is not an act of arbitrary enforcement of an irrational will, but the reasonable response to the limits of their child’s reason. It is an appeal to something that the child ought to know and can trust: that loving character of the parent. It is 'because I said so and you know enough to know me.'"

In other words, we can know enough about God's character and trustworthiness to accept that there is a good reason for God's commands or actions, even though we are not able to understand the reason.


So, to tie all this together: Conservative/evangelical Christians hold a view of God/ the bible which basically says, "God said this and did this, and that's the way it is, he is right, we just gotta trust him and obey what he said, even if it looks like it doesn't make sense."

For example, God wouldn't create a person gay. So if you pray and follow God enough, God will fix you and make you straight.

And we all know God's not okay with gay marriage. We have to fight to keep it illegal.

And God wants men to be the leaders in romantic relationships. So, women, don't ask guys out, just wait and God will send you the right guy.

Also, girls, you have to dress modest. Hide your beauty. That's what God says. You'll be rewarded with a perfect marriage.

Be pure. Guard your heart. Don't allow yourself to love. See, God sees you, God knows how devoted you are to God, and God will reward you.

Also, we all know that all people need God, so if an atheist tells you that they have a perfectly happy life, well we know deep down that it's not true.

And even though bad things happen in the world, just pray and trust God and God will protect you.

And if some kind of awful tragedy does befall you, well God has a plan. It's okay.

The bible is the authoritative voice on reality. If your experiences don't seem to match what the bible says, it's because you're not seeing the bigger picture. You have to wait, and eventually it will work out. God keeps God's promises, ya know.

But how long are you willing to wait for your experience to match up with the bible? (Or rather, with one particular interpretation of the bible?)

How many years of loneliness and self-hate before a person gives up on trying to become "ex-gay"? How many suicides before we stop preaching that people have to change who they are in order to be acceptable to God?

How many stories about healthy relationships between same-sex couples can one hear and still cling to the idea that every single one of them is living a lie?

How long should a "pure" woman wait before she decides no, God's not bringing me some perfect "future husband"? How many years of trusting God, despite the circumstances, before she says it's all a lie?

How long can a girl hide her body before she begins to hate it, hate the way God made her? How long will the church continue to teach modesty, while tons of women speak out about how damaging those teachings are?

How many times can she watch friends and random acquaintances get married, and still hold to the idea that she needs to shut down all her romantic attractions until God gives the signal? How long can she keep believing that yes, it is God's plan for her to be single now? When will she present her case to God- look how pure and obedient I've been! Where is the husband I've waited for?

How many people will you argue with because you don't believe what they said about their own personal life? How long before it becomes too hard to believe that you know EVERYONE better than they know themselves?

And how far will you rationalize and blame the victim in order to hold on to your idea that God always protects God's children?

How bad would things have to get in your own life before you decide you're done with all that "this is God's plan" stuff?

"By their fruit you will know them." Image source.

Reality does not match with what "the bible says," if you believe in an interpretation of the bible which puts specific rules and doctrines above Jesus' command to love your neighbor. Go ahead and live that way, with inflexible rules, and insist that this is what God says and he knows what he's doing, and in the long run, on a big-picture level, this is actually a good thing, even though a lot people find it very hurtful.

But Jesus may tell you, "I never knew you."


  1. Well said. Thank you.

  2. I think, unfortunately, for many people "what God says" is truly "what I think God said" or "what suits me." Taking this logic to an extreme, it's downright dangerous not to question or investigate what people claim is God.
    Can God be trusted? Yes, I think so. But that's largely because I have done, and still do, investigate what He says. And along the way (surprise, surprise), I discovered much of what I was told He said, He never did.