Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tough to stomach

There are so many things that we read in the Bible that are difficult to stomach. The obvious things to say when that happens are:

  • If it is the truth, it doesn't matter how you feel about it; and
  • God is God, and he is the one who gets to decide what is true and what is good. Get over it.

However, I think more can be said about why it is actually not just necessary but also good to swallow what the Bible says, even if we don't like the way it tastes.

1. Not a Stepford God

Firstly, it is an indication that we are dealing with an independent person. And a new personal relationship with our Heavenly Father is what makes the Gospel attractive. Tim Keller says this better than anyone I have read:

“If you don’t trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you.

“For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won’t have an intimate relationship. Remember the (two!) movies The Stepford Wives? The husbands of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who never cross the wills of their husbands. A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a marriage as intimate or personal.

“Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction.

“Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.

(Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pages 113-114)

2. True Truth

Secondly, as Keller mentions in that final paragraph, it is also an indication that we have come up against true truth. In his brilliant address, The Weight of Glory says the same thing:

The natural appeal of [the imagery of 'glory'] is to me, at first, very small. At first sight it chills, rather than awakes, my desire. And that is just what I ought to expect. If Christianity could tell me no more of the far-off land than my own temperament led me to surmise already, then Christianity would be no higher than myself. If it has more to give me, I must expect it to be less immediately attractive than “my own stuff.” ... If our religion is something objective, then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.

3. The way to find new vistas we could not conceive

Thirdly, we trust God from experience and his promises that if we go through accepting these difficult truths we will find that actually it opens up even more beautiful and awe-inspiring vistas than we would otherwise have seen. Lewis, having taken us on just that journey in The Weight of Glory, explains how pushing through his initial distaste with the concept of glory led him to discover something that is richer and more satisfying than if he had just rejected it out of hand:

If I had rejected the authoritative and scriptural image of glory and stuck obstinately to the vague desire which was, at the outset, my only pointer to heaven, I could have seen no connexion at all between that desire and the Christian promise. But now, having followed up what seemed puzzling and repellent in the sacred books, I find, to my great surprise, looking back, that the connexion is perfectly clear. Glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed to reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed. By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants I have begun to learn better what I really wanted.

Today I have listened to Rob Bell quizzing Adrian Warnock whether he is happy with the idea of God condemning people to hell. The doctrine is difficult for both to swallow, but Adrian Warnock choses to swallow and Rob Bell doesn't.

But I have also listened to Jack Miller, saying "cheer up, you're a lot worse off than you think." Original sin is a difficult doctrine for many to swallow, but Jack Miller movingly shows how it is only through fully absorbing it that we find freedom and adoption.

Finally, I would say - bring your concerns and questions to God. Wrestle with him, but with the hope that he and not you will prevail.


  1. Sometimes, just sometimes, the problem might be that we feel uneasy because what we have heard presented as Scripture is actually a distortion and a caricature of how God is actually presented in Scripture. This must be ruled out as well before we throw ourselves headlong into accepting certain 'unsavoury' truths; it might be that they are 'actually' unsavoury!

  2. Oh absolutely, I wouldn't deny that.

    Sometimes I'm uneasy that, for a reason I can't even articulate, what someone is saying does not correspond to the character of God I see in the Bible. This uneasiness is often a clue that if I dig further I'll find out the concrete reason for my uneasiness. Christ in Scripture has to judge all our statements about him, whether initially bitter or initially sweet.