There’s a way of looking at scripture that insists its purpose is to authorize or condemn every possible course of action under the sun; that all the rules and instructions are there, and are all perfectly understandable to everyone who sincerely seeks them.
It sounds really attractive – like the Bible can be subtitled Your Complete and Foolproof Instruction Book for Every Aspect of Life … The ‘For Dummies’ Edition! – if that’s the way you want to view it.
I have trouble limiting the Bible to that role or subtitle.
That view makes life really just a child’s game of “Father, May I?” whenever we encounter a question about something we might want to do or not do; to say or not say. You just open the book, search around a little, and WOW! Sure, enough! There’s the answer on page 728b!
So you spend your life trying to get permission; trying never to do the wrong thing; trying to be perfect – then hitting the wall when you realize deep down that you’re failing miserably, because there was only One of those perfect guys – and finally either spending the remainder of your days depressed and purposeless, or lying to yourself that you have achieved perfection and followed all the rules. Or perhaps alternating schizophrenically between them.
Your whole life is a monotonous chain of questions.
Father, may I smoke? Father, may I drink? Father, may I drink if I don’t get drunk? Father, may I clap in church? Father, may I give to a church-related cooperative organization that feeds starving orphans and widows? Father, may I worship in public with instrumental music? In private? In private without actually worshiping? Can I just listen to it?
There would be a problem for some people if they started perceiving answers from Him in what they were taught scripture said, like “No! I don’t like clapping anymore. I’m not sure I ever liked it in the Old Testament worship plan. Or musical instruments, either. Maybe we’ll have some harps and trumpets in heaven later. But not right now. I don’t feel like it.”
I would be one of those people.
And the real problem isn’t in any of the answers that you might find – some of which may sometimes seem contradictory even to the sincerest of Biblical pupils – but with the questions:
“Father, may I?”
Why should anyone feel obligated to search scripture up and down, backwards and forwards; to fast and pray and beg of God for permission to do something good? Shouldn’t our questions be more directed to the welfare and benefit of others? Don’t we already, deep-down, have a pretty good idea what pleases God and what really, really ticks Him off just from reading the stories about the people in scripture who sought His heart – or did everything in their power to oppose Him and glorify themselves?
Is the primary purpose of the Bible to keep God in a job of constantly-pestered Father, constantly dispensing permission and authority through His word to men so they can do (or not do) whatever thing they’re asking about? Or to empower people to do the good they create in His likeness, by relieving them from the constraint of guilt and sin and doubt and self-centeredness by revealing the selfless sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ?
Now don’t misquote me. Of course there are things that are word-for-word prohibited in scripture, and things that are word-for-word authorized. There are things that are commanded. There are also things that are suggested. There are things that are recommended, and some recommended against. There are some good examples. There are some really bad examples. There are some inferences you can make; some of them necessary and some of them downright absurd. And there are a whole passel of things that are left up to each and every one of us to figure out for ourselves, to help us mature our own consciences, to assist in building our own relationship with God through His Son and His Spirit.
No one else can authoritatively decide them for us. Their pronouncements wouldn’t help us grow individually or communally, or help us struggle for ourselves, or for own our own answers.
Because all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. Not to men. Not to a book. Not even the Bible. Nothing in it says that He redistributed it in any measure, except to his apostles to do good things for others – cast out demons; heal the sick. The authority is His. He judges. He decides. And if all the books in the world could not contain what could be written of Him, then they certainly couldn’t contain precisely detailed legislation for every conceivable situation or desire or question that confronts us.
That’s not what the Bible was primarily designed to be, just: The Book of Rules.
It was written to be The Book of God and Man, Reunited Through Jesus.
We can trust Him. We can trust Him to be both righteous and loving; merciful and just. We don’t have to waste our entire lives asking questions. We do good. We can become better. He will help us.
He didn’t let us down on the cross. And He won’t let us down now.
The Bible is not so much about permission so we will all live spotless lives as it is about forgiveness, because we can’t.
It’s been that way since the beginning. It’ll always be that way. It’s the way we were made: perfect, but gifted with choice – and imperfect by choice.
Of course we need rules. We also need guidelines. We need boundaries. And we need freedom. We were never meant to be creatures of only one-or-the-other.
If we are created in God’s image, don’t you think He hopes we will imitate His own creativity? Innovating new ways to touch the lives around us with His love? Pioneering new expressions of our love for Him? Trying things we’ve never dared to try before, and growing in courage because we try; perhaps even succeeding in persuading souls that we’ve never been able to touch or reach before?
Or do you think He’d prefer that we all huddle together in rubber-stamped unity and agree on a set of minimum daily adult requirements for moral and acceptable Christian living; making it as difficult as possible to prove one’s devotion through the strictest, narrowest interpretations imposed upon each new Christian; condemning to hell all those who would dare to disagree with the interpretation we have legislated for all time and all mankind in our perfect and divine wisdom and Bible-given authority?
“… But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. …. (to teachers of the law and the Pharisees) You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (~ from Matthew 23)