It was pleasantly uncomfortable, on so many levels. Not only was it about 85 degrees in the room and humid, causing me to sweat enough to remove my glasses in lieu of continually pushing them up the bridge of my nose, but we were talking about things not normally talked about in church. This was uncomfortable because I felt in myself conflicts about my past understanding of God and the Bible and my current viewpoint. Let me explain.
I was raised in a church that taught me to accept that what the Bible says is true and proclaimed to follow what it teaches. This can’t be a true statement in and of itself because the Bible is a story of God revealing his plan slowly throughout history. A church can’t simply “follow what the Bible teaches”, because the Bible teaches both war and non-violence. The problem with this should be obvious, but its not always apparent to everyone.
Just read Genesis 1-11, and you see that God, who was initially quick to anger, even to the point of destroying (almost) the entire creation (Gen. 6), changed his tune in Gen.11 and told Abraham that he was going to bless the entire created order through Abraham’s family. From anger to blessing.
That’s a shift.
Or compare the Torah to the Gospels, and you see yet another shift. God instructed his people in the Torah to go in and take possession of the land by force, destroying all who would contend against them. The Law instructed the Hebrews in how to deal with any and all kinds of crime. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Then Jesus comes along and says, “I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” So, instead of retaliation in kind, love the one who would take from you your dignity or your life.
Is God changing? My reaction is, “No, God never changes.” If that is true, how do I explain these apparent changes?
The only explanation is that God is ahead of us, pulling us forward into to new and better ways of living and being, towards ourselves, others, and creation. He is already there, and always has been wherever he is, but we are not there yet. So, he reveals his plans slowly, his desires patiently, and his will in parts and pieces as we are able to handle it.
Jesus even gave Peter, and I believe the Church, the ability to slowly join him where he is taking us to. He did this by giving Peter the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven”, saying, “whatever you forbid on earth, will already have been forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth, will already have been permitted in heaven.” Jesus is essentially saying that as we act in new ways according to our new understandings of where God has always been and is pulling us towards, we are joining God where he has always been.
So, when William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln independently decided that slavery was wrong, even though the Bible never even hints at that, they were forbidding on earth something that all along God was against. Not going against God, but going against an institution that God is clearly not for.
This is what Acts 10-15 is all about. Prior to Acts 10, when Peter preached the good news to Gentiles for the first time, only Jews were allowed to join in the movement of Jesus on earth. This was not God’s design (he even hints at it often in the prophets), but the apostles were not able to see it differently until this moment. In Acts 15, the church council, made up solely of Jews, concluded that, “It SEEMS good to the Holy Spirit and to us that” non-Jews should not have to become Jews in order to follow Jesus. Permitting what was previously forbidden. Aligning themselves with where God always was.
So, the question for us, today, is this: In what areas is God pulling us forward into the place He desires the Church to be? When it comes to the taking of human life, and the crafting or possession of weapons that do so, where is God pulling us? When it comes to permitting LGBTQ’s to worship and fully participate in the life of the Church, where is God pulling us? When it comes to the destruction of creation through pollution and unsustainable forms of energy, where is God pulling us? What we forbid, and what we permit, has serious implications.
Here’s to opening our hearts to where the Spirit “SEEMS” to be pulling us, and acting in ways that bring us closer to the heart of God for humanity. May we be open to the “new” ways in which God is pulling us forward into Him.