Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Honest Lent: Unclear Passages

Image text: "God is love." Image source.
For Honest Lent, let's look at 1 John 4:7-21.

Wow, I love this passage! It's about how love is the most important thing, how "knowing God" is equivalent to loving people. It doesn't matter what religion you are- if you love people, then you're connected to God. Yes, even if you don't believe in God. This passage says, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God." This is probably THE MOST important belief in the Christianity I follow. What truly matters isn't the language you use to describe what "God" is or what gives your life purpose. What truly matters is how you treat people.

But here's something a bit odd about this passage: Verse 15 says "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God." Wait a minute, but verses 7 and 8 said that loving people is equivalent to knowing God. And then verse 15 here seems to be saying that agreeing with the statement "Jesus is the Son of God" is equivalent to knowing God. So, which is it? Those are very different things. One is about actions and one is about religious beliefs.

Well church people always say "use the clear passages of Scripture to interpret the unclear ones." However, what they really mean is this: "clear passages" means "things that fit with what I believe the bible teaches" and "unclear ones" means "things that just seem wrong to me." It's not actually about how "clear" or "unclear" the actual language of the passage itself is. "Unclear" means you read something and you think "no way, this can't be right." Like verses that clearly say women need to be silent in church- but you're like, no, that's ridiculous. You label it an "unclear passage" and then go find some "clear passages" about how God loves all genders equally, and decide that the one about how women can't speak in church can't possibly have really meant it.

Or you find a verse that says after death, people will be rewarded according to what they've done. But you say, no no, that can't be right, the evangelical church very clearly taught me that "the gospel" is you don't get to heaven based on what you've done, but based on whether you "got saved." So you call Matthew 16:27 an "unclear passage", even though it very clearly says "he will reward each person according to what they have done." And you go off and find a different verse, a "clear" one, which says we are saved through faith alone, and you decide Jesus didn't really mean we're saved by what we've done.

That's how this works, this "use the clear passages to interpret the unclear ones." "Clear passages" are the ones you can easily accept because they confirm what you already believe. "Unclear passages" are the ones you disagree with.

So if I was using that strategy here in 1 John 4, I would say the bit about love being equivalent to knowing God is a "clear passage" because, ya know, that just makes sense, right? Like, of course the most important thing is love, of course God would think that's what really matters, not the specific religious facts you believe. And then this bit about how you need to believe Jesus is the Son of God in order to have God living in you, well that's an "unclear passage" because hey, that doesn't make sense, then only Christians can know God, and obviously that can't be right, because God loves everyone, no matter what religion (or none at all) they follow. So the conclusion is that verse 15 didn't really mean what it said.

Yeah, you see how ridiculous this is, right?

This is why I don't really believe in "use the clear passages to interpret the unclear ones"- or at least, not the way I've seen it practiced in church groups. I have a conscience which says love is what really matters, not religion. I really don't care how many bible verses agree or disagree.

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