Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Everything is "Biblical", "Biblical" Tends to Get Lost in Translation

Ever notice how we Christians tend to attach the phrase "Biblical" to just about everything?

"Biblical manhood", "biblical womanhood", "biblical child-rearing", "biblical discipline", "biblical dating", "biblical education", "biblical diets", "biblical world view"...... you get the idea. Biblical everything, by which we tend to mean "the way God's wants (wanted, originally intended, planned, ordained, or created) things to be".

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the "biblical" version of reality we think the Bible describes usually happens to coincide with what we think about the way God originally intended things to be. When we are the one's putting "biblical" before the noun to describe a certain way of thinking, that way of thinking almost always mirrors what we think about that noun. Other interpretations, offered by equally well meaning people,  seem to fall short in our eyes, even though those equally well-meaning other people use the very same scriptures we use to come to their obviously flawed conclusions.

I recently read a book by Rachel Held Evans called "A Year of Biblical Womanhood" (which I thoroughly enjoyed),  in which the author investigated what it is evangelical Christians typically mean when we say "Biblical Womanhood", or, indeed, "Biblical" anything.  She discovered there really is no consensus on exactly what is "biblical", but that instead we should focus not on describing things and insisting on certain realities, but should work to love God with all our hearts, and love one another as Jesus loved us.  Do that, she summarizes, and you'll do 'biblical life' just fine, in whatever stream of life you swim.

So, with the US Supreme Court taking arguments this week on California's Proposition 8, and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, I began seeing a few Facebook memes in support of "Biblical Marriage".  An example:

To which I have to ask: exactly which Biblical Definition of Marriage are you referring to?

I could post dozens of other memes that point out the apparent inconsistency of the "biblical" stance on marriage.  Do a Bing or Google search on "biblical marriage meme" and you'll find far more mockery than support or clarification of "biblical marriage".  The phrase unfortunately has become a caricature of the truth and meaning of a covenant relationship between a man and a woman that Jesus described in Matthew 19 and elsewhere.

And I think it's our own fault.  Christians.  Us.

Because I don't think God ever asked His people to be the moral guardians of society, or to defend Him or His statutes before Caesar (or the US Supreme Court). I do believe God is more than able to defend Himself to the world.  Jesus never took Rome to task for their abusive tax structure, or punitive penal system, or even their ideas on marriage and sexuality.  Jesus remained mostly silent on those issues of culture at large.

Instead, Jesus talked to His own people.

Jesus told his people to be a light to world.
He told his people to reflect his love to people they considered to be their enemies.
He told his people to be salt to a world in desperate need of preservation and saving.
He told his people to live lives in contrast to how the world at large lives.
He told his people, give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, but be certain to fully give to God that which belongs to God.
He told his people to live as revolutionaries, as counter-cultural insurgents, to sacrifice and give of ourselves in harmony and unity for a single purpose:

That His people would demonstrate His love to the world in such a way that the world would see Jesus through the love of His people. 

Jesus never asked his followers to try to control the world with laws and statutes, or to demand obedience to God or a certain moral code.  He told his followers, as we are transformed by God's grace, to live graceful, transformed lives that beautifully display our own obedience to God.

Its the love and the spirit of God that transforms lives, not the sword of Caesar, or the laws of the United States of America.

Which brings me back to "biblical marriage".  I don't think anyone has a perfect definition of just what "biblical marriage" is,  but a lot of people seem to know exactly what it is not, which makes it difficult to defend in the culture at large, which leads me to suggest.....

Stop defending it.  Stop trying to force others to adhere to "biblical marriage"- especially when far too many of us that try to enforce "biblical marriage" do a poor job of living it ourselves.

Instead, let's extend grace.

"Marriage" is an example of the covenant, the promise or agreement, that God has given to love His people.  It is a life-picture of how God loves us, and as such, we should reflect that love in our marriage covenants as well.  Its about relationships.

So stop defending it.

Stop trying to force others to live by our definition.

Stop judging (yes, I think Jesus was serious when he said that).

Let's instead extend grace.  Abundant grace, just as God extended to each of us.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

So as we await decisions from the US Supreme Court, which I think will follow the trend in culture and lean toward affirming same-sex marriages, let us in the church remember we are not just talking about stances and ideologies and defending "biblical marriage" - we are talking about real lives, and real people, that need grace and God's love in their lives - just like all of us did before we availed ourselves of God's wonderful grace.

That's our job. That's our mission, our Great Commission.

Not to judge or condemn, but to love and extend the hand of grace to all, so that all may come to a saving knowledge of our loving Lord.

God is the only judge, and we can trust him to judge rightly and lovingly.  Let's leave that in His capable hands.

I think that's a better way of "biblical" living.