Believe me, I get it. When I read the Bible it seems every-other page is about keeping oneself separate from sinners, asking the Lord to vanquish one’s personal enemies, or the Lord wiping out the sinful. It hardly seems in keeping with Jesus’ radical proclamations that the Father loves us the same way He loves His own Son (Jn 17:23), or Paul’s declaration that God is reconciling the world to Himself through Christ (2 Cor 5:19-23), or John’s declaration that “now are we the sons of God…” (1 Jn 3:3). It’s easy to make the same mistake Israel made, confusing the Lord’s caution about our tendencies with His own loving nature. Israel, a people in covenant with God for the purpose of bringing the nations to worship Him, mistranslated the Lord’s prescriptions about wholehearted worship for exclusivity and isolation from others.
Jonah’s story – a prophet from Israel refusing to take the Good News of Father’s forgiveness to a Gentile people (Ninevah) – is a metaphorical narrative of Israel’s arrogant isolation, a misunderstanding of the Father’s heart.
The truth is, the Father has revealed beyond question that the godhead paid the ultimate sacrifice to be rightly-related to a restored humanity. Grace trumps law, love trumps rules, relationship trumps individualism, the Tree of Life trumps the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet we still default to personal rights, personal opinions, rules, and group think. Yes, it’s just human – but it’s not divinely human, nor is it simple.
A deliberate and mature study of Scripture yields an understanding of a progressive revelation from God which must inform our Bible reading and interpretation. We must also learn to differentiate between personal convictions, community standards, and universal biblical absolutes – and the tendency to always interpret our personal convictions as one of the other two.
I remember decades ago in the early days of my pastoral ministry, a man started attending my church who drove a truck for a beer distributorship. Anything having to do with alcohol was “of the devil” (or so I had been told by my mother who was the daughter of an alcoholic). I was conflicted. Can this man keep driving a beer truck and really serve the Lord? My struggle with the Lord over this led me to value the man and let the Lord deal with the “non-essentials”. Decades later this man contacted me, long since moved to a different city, still wholly living for Jesus and expressing gratitude for the Father’s love and acceptance shown years ago.
This is by no means an argument for alcohol (or any counterfeit for wholeness). It is to say that the only way to really be the reflection of the Father’s unconditional love in the earth is to first grasp His heart for people. He would rather us be rightly-related than be right (though it’s no argument for holding on to being wrong). Satan’s strategy is to divide us, keep us in a dual-mindset of right vs wrong, good behavior vs bad behavior, good doctrine vs heresy, and blind to the third option of love. There’s no cosmic quiz at the Pearly Gates – did you learn the 10 cardinal doctrines of the church? The sixteen fundamental truths? No. There’s only love.
Dr. Kerry Wood | All Rights Reserved 2019