4/05/2005

Why isn't there unity in the message?

Sometimes I just don’t get God.

It may sound funny, coming from me, but He really can be confusing. We all know the criticisms. Why does He let bad things happen? Why does he save some and not others? Why does understanding His message for us take so much work?

For me, the hardest part is seeing unity in God’s creation. I can understand that the discord in the world is our own fault; sin is a powerful thing. However, I struggle with knowing why God’s MESSAGE can seem so inconsistent.

When I was in high school, I had a hard time seeing why God allowed ignorance. If He wants to save everyone, why does He put people in situations where knowing Him is so hard? I knew many kids from abusive or dysfunctional families, or from places where the only good thing in life is having more stuff. Their minds were never challenged, and had stagnated by the time they hit high school. Where was God in all this?

Later I struggled with “contradictions” in the Bible. It wasn’t that I thought the Bible contradicted itself; in fact, I found that the so-called contradictions are very explainable to those who care. What I didn’t understand though, was why God would ALLOW things that seemed to be contradictions. If God knows every heart and can guide every pen, why were there copying errors? Why did the authors word things in a way that seemed contradictory? Why couldn’t I spend time explaining God’s love instead of defending his word?

I eventually worked my way through these struggles. Learning of predestination, God’s passion for His own glory, and the historical context of Scripture did a lot to set aside my uncertainties.

Recently, though, it’s been hitting me again.

My latest struggle has been with denominational separations.

See, there are a LOT of denominations. Plymouth Brethren, American Baptist, Southern Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Church of God, Evangelical Free, Reformed, Wesleyan, Anglican, Quaker, Pentecostal… the list goes on and on. Each denomination has its own take on church life, organization, and doctrine.

To be frank, that’s just fine with me. I’ve been listening to “leadership interviews” online recently, where some of today’s top theologians talk about issues facing the church, and they’re remarkably unified. As I listen, I am quickly able to see that many of the differences we see in the church are due either to A) Honest desires to worship and glorify God in different ways, which is fine, or B) An incorrect understanding of God and His Word, which is a problem that needs to be named and challenged.

However, there is another category that drives me nuts. If God is completely unified in purpose, direction, and control, why can those of good faith disagree so much? Why the split between dispensational and covenantal? Why the disagreements on the role of women in the church? Why can teachings of earlier Christians be so out of touch with today’s (such as Jonathan Edwards teaching that the Catholic Church is the AntiChrist and that the world would end in the year 2000)?

I’m not certain of my answer just yet. I have some different kinds of studies I want to do, in hopes that they will shed light on the subject. What is my hypothesis, though?

At this point, my atheist friends will helpfully inform me that the Bible was just made up anyways, so of course it can’t express a unified message because there was no unifying force behind it.

Some days I almost wish for that sort of a world. In the constantly changing, never-dull world of the atheist, life is just something that happens, and we may as well derive our own unique sense of purpose in the world from what we are (randomly) given. In a world like that, everything is simpler. I choose my morality, choose my direction, and choose my version of happiness. When things with Samantha get hard, I can just leave. If my political career doesn’t pan out, I can join the military. It’s like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books. You look at what is, and then make decisions about your response. It’s infinitely simple because the options are limitless.

Unfortunately, that’s not for me. A purposeless, random, uncertain world is inherently self-destructive… and frankly, is basically impossible. Only a God beyond all rules stands the test of possibility.

So, then, I’m forced to accept that my sovereign God allows dissension. My hypothesis is that he is doing this because it accomplishes His purposes. If debate restructures our thinking and sharpens our study, so much the better. If some in one place need one teaching to see God and those in another need something different, so be it.

What, then, is true? What does God really intend? What does the future really hold and what is the most loving way to get there?

And the big question: Is this a debate that should be conducted in the publicity of the square… or the privacy of the heart and community? Hmm… we may be on to something here.

1 comment:

amanda said...

the latter half was difficult to understand.