In this post, I will draw from something that I read online, the Christian movie that I watched yesterday (Hidden Secrets), and some other things that I have heard. The topic is how certain Christian ideas can be managed well by some and badly by others. “Well” and “badly” here refer not to the accuracy of biblical exegesis, but rather to the quality of one’s life and attitude. You’ll see what I mean when I give some examples:
1. I was reading a note by a pastor yesterday, in which he was talking about abuses that he has observed in conservative Christianity. He listed some reasons that he responds to certain elements of conservative Christianity with a sharp edge:
“It’s the pastor who told me he was kicked out of Bible School during his last week on finals as a senior. Why? Because his wife left him for another man that week and he requested an extension of time to take his tests so that he could deal with the situation and also his own grief. The Dean of Students immediately expelled him from school, telling him that he couldn’t manage his own house, how could he ever manage the house of God.”
“It’s the guy in his thirties who could not find peace in his own salvation because he had been told that a ‘generational curse’ hung over him. Despite all the renouncing and binding and rebuking he had been told to do, he still was tormented.”
“It’s a precious friend who killed himself after telling me a few months earlier, ‘I believe God could use me if I could only get my shit together.’ Despite my best efforts to assure him that he didn’t need to get it together but just trust Jesus moment by moment, somebody came in one morning and found him hanging by his neck in a noose he had made.”
2. In the movie that I watched yesterday, Hidden Secrets (see my post here), one of the characters felt that God was punishing her because she had an abortion when she was in college. When a Christian friend tried to reassure her that the blood of Jesus could forgive any sin, she replied that God may have forgiven her, and yet God is still requiring her to undergo negative temporal consequences on account of her sin. For her, those consequences were that people she loved died. She did not refer to the story of David and Bathsheba, but I have heard Christians allude to that story to teach that, although God may forgive a sin and the sinner is saved, God may still require the sinner to endure the negative temporal consequences of that sin.
3. I’ve heard different people who get their heads in a spin as they try to accept such issues as hell and God’s foreknowledge. I remember a young man calling into Focus on the Family’s Life on the Edge radio program, and he was disturbed by hell. One of the hosts was giving him the usual evangelical “You send yourself to hell” spiel, but that did not satisfy the caller. He felt that God’s foreknowledge of all events took away people’s free-will, for God’s foreknowledge implies that the future is set in stone. When you add hell into the mix, there are people who can arrive at pretty disturbing conclusions, the kinds that can put some people’s minds into a tailspin.
4. To cite my own experience, I long had trouble with Jesus’ teaching that God will not forgive our sins if we don’t forgive others (see Matthew 6:14-15). That seems to me to be salvation by works, for it conditions God’s forgiveness and acceptance of me on my ability to push a grudge out of my system. This teaching depressed me for a long time.
Many Christians will come along and will say that what I presented in the above items is not “biblical”. But, in a sense, it is biblical. Paul told Timothy that those who can’t manage their own households are not fit to run the church of God (I Timothy 3:5). There are punishments in the Hebrew Bible that are passed down to subsequent generations. In some cases in the Hebrew Bible, God smites a person’s family members as punishment for that person’s sin. (I think of the firstborn of Egypt, and also Jeroboam’s son.) Jesus said that God will not forgive our own sins if we do not forgive others.
The thing is, there are many Christians who know how to cope and to function, for they interpret these things in a common-sense manner, or they reinterpret them, or they simply ignore them, or they may not even be aware of them. But then there are other people—who may be obsessive-compulsive, or who may take things literally and at face-value, or who take things really seriously—who can easily find themselves tormented by these and other doctrines. And, when someone offers a common-sense interpretation that is more consistent with a happy life, it may not make sense to people like this (which includes me), for the interpretation does not appear to be all that faithful to the Bible. For example, I’d be rich if I had a penny for every time that Christians brought in extra-biblical insights to explain away Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. I’ve been told that I am forgiven simply by accepting God’s free grace, but that lack of forgiveness on my part can hinder me from producing spiritual fruit. But Jesus doesn’t say that. He says that those who don’t forgive others will not be forgiven by God. Many have said that, if I haven’t forgiven others, then that indicates that I haven’t truly accepted God’s forgiveness of myself. When I hear that, being saved appears to involve a lot more work than evangelicals say it does!
And then there are solutions that I hear that don’t solve much, in my opinion. For example, on the issues of the generational curse and God killing a person’s family members because of the person’s sin, I’ve heard Christians say that this was only the Old Testament, and that God now operates by different rules. What exactly does that solve? So God was an unfair psychopath for a while, and now he’s had a change of heart? What sense does that make?
I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t rack my brain over this stuff. I try to go with what makes me happy, or compassionate, or peaceful in spirit. If bad interpretations of the Bible can assist me in that, then I go with them!