Have you ever read your Bible and come across something that bothered you? Something that made you uncomfortable? Something you disagreed with? I hope you have.
Many people mistakenly assume that everything they read in their Bibles should line up with how they see the world. God should behave the way they expect him to, and in ways that make them comfortable. But God is a person with a mind and a will, just like you and I. And since no two humans see the world the same way, and no two humans come to the same conclusions, why would we expect to agree with God on everything he has said or done?
Not only do humans disagree with each other, but different cultures throughout time have thought of life differently. We Americans love the underdog, but in Roman times the idea that God would work through people without a prestigious background or of ill-repute was baffling (James 2; 1 Cor 1-2). On the other hand, the idea that a wife should submit to her husband is repulsive to many today, but ancient cultures would not have been nearly as bothered by the concept (Eph 5:23). Although God sometimes gives certain laws for certain cultures, God himself isn’t bound by culture. He is the all-transcendent standard, and he will confront every culture with their problems in ways that will challenge the thinking of the day and make people uncomfortable.
If you have read your Bible for years and never come across something that bothered you, you haven’t been reading it very carefully. You’ve probably read only the parts you’ve liked, or you’ve reinterpreted what you’ve read so it lines up with how you think, “That can’t be what it means, must be God meant to say…” But hopefully you have come across passages that challenge your thinking, because I guarantee you there are things God disagrees with you on. God stands outside of your culture and is an independent mind and will from yours, and there will be differences of opinion, so how do we respond when we come to something in Scripture we don’t like?
Every time this happens, we are faced with a choice: Do we try and bend our understanding of God to match our thinking, or do we change our thinking to match what God has revealed? Do we reserve for ourselves the right to be the final authority on how the world should work, or are we willing to humble ourselves and take God’s Word as the standard?
We see this dilemma at the very beginning of Scripture. Satan goes up to Eve and asks, “Did God actually say?” (Gen 3:1). In the Hebrew, it’s clear that the serpent is pretending to be surprised–confused even. He is attempting to plant doubt in the mind of Eve. “Why would God say that? That doesn’t make sense!” He then goes on to misquote God, and finally to deny God’s Word entirely. Through all of this, he has one goal in mind: get Eve to set herself up as the final arbiter of truth–convince her that God’s way doesn’t make sense, and that if God’s behavior doesn’t line up with what Eve thinks it should be, then she has every right to ignore him. The serpent succeeds, unfortunately, and Eve found out too late that God really does know best.
When we come across something in Scripture we don’t like, whether it be a standard of God such as equating anger with murder (Matt 5:21-26), his doing something difficult for us to fathom such as ordering the extermination of the Canaanites, or failing to uphold a standard we think he should have, we have a choice to make. Either we accept by faith that God is good and his view is right, or we set ourselves up as the authority and begin down the path of pride that will ultimately lead to destruction. We either tremble at his Word and follow it or we rebel against it.
Habakkuk had such a dilemma. He couldn’t understand why God was allowing such rampant wickedness in the nation of Israel. God informed him that he was about to judge his rebellious nation by sending Babylon (also known as Chaldea) to conquer his people. This made even less sense, as Habakkuk wondered “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Hab 1:13). Judah might be bad, but Babylon was worse. How can God use a wicked nation to punish a less wicked nation? In the end Habakkuk realized the answer was to “live by faith” (2:4), continuing to hold onto and live for God even if he didn’t have all the answers.
Job likewise was put in a position where he wondered what in the world God was up to. He begged to be given his day in court, sure that God would realize he’d made a mistake in sending Job the trials he had (Job 23:1-7). God was unimpressed, and rather than giving a detailed explanation, he came to Job with his own question: Who do you think you are (38:1)? God then goes on with a series of other questions to remind Job that Job is not God, and should trust God when he doesn’t understand what God is up to. Job, like Habakkuk, got the picture: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42:1-6).
I hope there are many times that you read your Bible and think, “I don’t like that.” “That doesn’t make sense.” “Why would God say or do that?” But I hope you go one step further and say, “But God is all-knowing and I am very simple.” “God has all the authority and I am just his servant.” “I do not understand why God is this way or said this thing, but I can trust him to be good.” When what you read in God’s Word doesn’t line up with what you think, respond in faith to the God whose character you can trust, yield yourself through prayer, and allow God to bend your thinking and your will to his, rather than the other way around.
Ben Hicks went to Bob Jones University for college and stayed on for grad work, recently graduating with his Master of Divinity. Ben is the Young Adults Pastor and oversees the Single Focus ministry at Colonial Hills Baptist Church. Follow him on Twitter @HicksBen
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