Saturday, December 8, 2007

Choices That Confuse Me

Choices can be good and at times they can make us feel lost. A lady came back from 4 years of living in a third world country. People were feeding a family of 6 on a $1.82 per week. I know that sounds impossible. Obviously the food choices were limited even for my friend. No money therefore no demand therefore no supply.

She said it was difficult at first but eventually she came to realize that lack of choice for material things meant focusing on relationships. The people were genuinely happy and thankful for each day. They shared an entire month’s food supply to celebrate her coming to them. To refuse their gift would have been worst than the guilt she felt for depriving them of their basic necessities.

When the 4 years were up she was surprised how difficult it was to be leaving such a warm and generous group of people. On arriving home she had her first encounter with reverse culture shock when she went to the grocery store. The 27 choices of salad dressing that were stacked from top to bottom on a huge set of shelves literally flooded her emotions. She left with nothing and cried the rest of the day. It took her a week before she even attempted to go back for anymore groceries.

Interpreting the Bible is rather like having a huge shelf of choices flooding your senses. Some people like to see the the Bible as God’s clear word that can be easily digested from a 1 X 3 promise coupon while having a bagel with cream cheese in the morning. Others are quite serious when they make statements and bumper stickers that say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” When I hear that line I’m not quite sure what they mean. Do they really believe they have the exact right interpretation of every single sentence in the Bible? Or do they mean, my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with the facts.

It seems to me that there are lots of interpretive options when approaching the Bible. Even saying there are choices is sure to alienate some people but the reality is that we do have choices. Sometimes the choices are polar opposites with one being quite humane and reasonable and the other being quite controlling and harsh. I get confused when the latter option is chosen by a large number of Christians.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

A while back I was exploring alternative ways of practicing the Lord’s Supper/Communion. In Suppertime I took a thoughtful approach to rethinking how we practice taking communion. I was pissed off when I wrote, Communion: Take at Your own Risk, because I had just heard a normally kind pastor use Paul’s teaching about eating unworthily as an example of how God still kills people for messing up from time to time.

He was quite confident in speaking this way as most of Christianity interprets Paul’s words to mean God kills people for taking the bread and wine with unconfessed sin in their lives.

Here’s the offending passage.
1Cor 11:29 (NIV) For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.

Here’s an alternative interpretation to the God will kill you for getting it wrong way of thinking.

Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t just for our salvation, it was the means through which He would create and build His church, His body. The Corinthians were very excited about their salvation but were being very careless in how they treated and cared for His body, the rest of the believers that they were to love. They didn’t care if others were in desperate situations and were being malnourished.

The well off ones were obviously very spiritual as they had lots to eat. Consequently, they didn’t care about their brothers and sisters who were in real need. In their carelessness towards Jesus’ body, (other Christians), some were literally dying or becoming sick through lack of care.

Note that in verse 30 Paul isn’t saying that the one’s who were eating unworthily (not caring about others) had died but that others had died because of their inaction.

He isn’t trying to scare them into focusing on their inward and hidden sin but on their need to love one another. Taking communion isn’t about celebrating our ticket to heaven. It’s about having a great meal with great friends who are living out their faith in their risen Lord together. It’s about taking responsibility for each other. When we don’t, some, as Paul says, get sick and some even die.

Why choose the classic interpretation that causes you to focus on yourself and sees God just waiting to pounce on those who aren’t doing it quite right?

It’s your choice.


Hanan Merrill said...

"Taking communion isn’t about celebrating our ticket to heaven. It’s about having a great meal with great friends who are living out their faith in their risen Lord together."

Hanan Merrill said...

sorry about my last comment, which wasn't a comment but a quote. I meant to say, how true. Maybe communion times would have more meaning for me if that's what they were seen to be about?

David Grant said...

Why not make it happen that way?