“I have no choice but to learn this, but I don’t have to believe it.” I thought to myself as I looked over the materials. “Why is it that I’m supposed and learn and believe these things?”
I guess it was because the setting was the church. It’s almost a requirement to believe everything that one learns there. At school, one can learn things but it’s not a given that they are to be believed. In the sciences, there is a process by which a theory is tested, evidence is gathered, data is recorded, and the results either prove or disproves the theory.
I’m used to taking that approach even as I consider religious teachings. To me, all interpretations are theories. The evidence is whether or not the interpretation leads to good or bad changes in the lives of those that obey it. The data is the number of how many seem to be good and how many seem to be bad. The results usually turn out to be one of two things: the interpretation leads to positive change in a person’s life which is improved and treats others well and proves that the interpretation is sound. Or the interpretation leads to negative change in a person’s life which is not improved and treats others worse and proves that the interpretation is likely faulty.
When I look at Jesus’ words and example, he always seemed to be making a positive change – even when he had harsh words for the Pharisees it was because they themselves had lost the ability to see how bad they had become. When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he answered his questions sincerely. It seems to me that Jesus saw the value in treating each person differently depending upon the circumstances.
I’m having a difficult time coming up with an opposite example, clearly the Pharisees are a traditional example, but there’s also the Judaizers, the ones that preached that believers had to be made fully Jewish to be fully Christian. They stirred up conflict in almost every church by adhering to a blended legalism of New and Old Testament laws and commandments.
There is always the possibility of human error, the tendency to hear one thing and understand it to mean something else entirely. “How can I be born again?” Nicodemus asked, not certain that he was understanding the truths Jesus was telling him.
I think that’s why some people are bothered by my inability to just believe some of the most popular interpretations. They think an inability to just believe the Bible is proof of having a weak faith. They think that I must be a heretic if I believe the wrong things. They think that I’m not like them, not one of them, and they don’t know how to treat a brother or sister who disagrees with them. While I envy how easy it is for others to just believe, I have also seen how dangerous that can be.
Asking “why?” isn’t just an impertinent question – it’s an important question. Since we are asked to act upon our beliefs, then knowing what we are expected to do and why we are expected to act that way is important. Some time ago, I learned that in synagogues, there is a debate type method of learning and interpreting the Bible. They desire to learn not only what it is to interpret a teaching, but what the invalid interpretations of it are like.
But I’ve always been a fan of opposites, one cannot know how hot the heat is without comparing it to how cool the cold is. Neither can we know what belief is like until we compare it with unbelief. Then we understand that there is more to these things than yes or no, left or right, up or down, but there is a spectrum of ways to look at things – a spectrum of interpretations which may all be valid to believe if we just learn about them.