Back when every mall had a Christian bookstore, they sold bumper stickers beside the little metal ichthus fish. One of the most popular bumper stickers was the pithy – God said it. I believe it. That settles it.
It’s 2020 now, so we may not have Christian bookstores. Or bumper stickers. Or malls. But we do have social media and Christian memes. Which means we have the same terse sentiments without the pleasure of sauntering past that leather store that wafted its weathered, tanned, oiled animal skin scent into the main mall hallways to blend with the delicious aroma of giant cookies at The Great American Cookie Company and pungent cinnamon pine cones from Kirkland’s. Aaahhh, those were the days.
As I scroll social media, I regularly come upon a meme with a Bible or a stained glass window that says some variation of The Bible has the final say; your opinion doesn’t matter or God’s Word is the final authority, no matter what society says.
And I get it. I understand the notion that God is the same and doesn’t change with the whims of trends and circumstances. I can appreciate that the idea behind these memes comes from a place of respect for God and the Bible — and maybe a little bit of side eye to anyone who interprets the Bible differently.
Recently, I posted something on Facebook about how our beliefs and understandings and interpretations are supposed to change and grow as we change and grow — that if everything about our beliefs and faith is the exact same now as it was twenty years ago, something is wrong. And like a pucker-lipped old schoolmarm tapping a ruler on the desk to get all the children in line, someone swiftly replied, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” To which my brain immediately answered, Yeah, and I’m not Jesus Christ. And neither are you.
The problem I have with those memes and bumper stickers is that they close the door of conversation. Slam it shut. With a thud. They arrogantly declare that the person posting has the corner market on understanding the Bible, and no further discussion is required. Thankyouverymuch. The End.
What does it even mean to say The Bible is the final authority, and your opinion doesn’t matter? As if every Bible scholar ever has come to one agreement on everything in the Bible. As if we don’t have a boatload of denominations with various opinions about everything from whether we can have the piano accompany our hymns to whether women can teach grown men to whether we sprinkle or dunk at our baptisms to whether women can wear pants to whether believers still actually speak in tongues or not.
Since the very first Christians – way back with Peter and Paul – believers have had opinions and understandings and teachings that differ. Whether we like it or not, God has left room for us to wrestle out our own faith, our own understanding of what passages of scripture mean and especially what they mean to us in a different culture than which they were originally written.
My entire life, I’ve heard Christians criticize other Christians who hold different beliefs — They pick and choose from the Bible what they want to believe. Yes. they do. And so do you. We all do.
Every believer reads the Bible through some lens, interprets scripture through some preconceived notions or with some goal in mind. In her book Inspired, Rachel Held Evans wrote about interpreting the Bible, “We’re all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the Bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something, and we all have a tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: are we reading with the prejudice of love, with Christ as our model, or are we reading with the prejudice of judgment and power, self-interest and greed? Are we seeking to enslave or liberate, burden or set free?”
God is the final authority. And my finite mind can’t pretend to understand God or God’s Word perfectly. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But I am not. I’m a work in progress – learning, growing, changing from day to day and year to year. Isn’t that a relief? God is God, and I am not. I’m just doing the best I can with the understanding I have and with the help of a God who loves me.
God and God’s Word are the final authority. My interpretation of God’s Word is not the final authority. Your interpretation of God’s Word is not the final authority.
So as I grow, as I get to know God better, I’m going to approach scripture with the prejudice of love. Because I know the two greatest commandments are to love God and love people, that’s the lens I’m going to read the Bible through. How can I understand this passage in a way that prompts me to love God more? that helps me love other people well?
I’ll hold tightly to Jesus and the Bible, but I’ll hold loosely to my interpretations – allowing plenty of room for God to teach me new things, to change my mind, to stretch me.
God said it. I believe it. As best I can right now, but maybe I’ll understand it better next year.
Maybe someone can Cricut that on a window decal for us. And throw in a giant cookie and some cinnamon potpourri while you’re at it.