If there is anything we resent God for more, it is being outside of our understanding. We want God to be a like an omnipotent train conductor; completely in control but completely predictable. This is why one of the most glaringly obvious aspects of God’s relationship to us goes unnoticed, untaught, and often contradicted. We want to think God is completely consistent, and that everyone is treated the same way. However, the truth is that God actually changes how he interacts with us based on *gasp* our own behavior.
Why God Changes His Mind
But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?… And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. – Exodus 32:11, 14 (ESV)
There are several stories in the Bible about God “changing his mind” or reversing a decision based on the plea or argument of a person. Why would God do that? Much for the same reason a parent would change his mind with a child. We take care of our children when they need it, but most of all, we want them to learn to take care of themselves. When my son tells me he wants to try something a different way, or approach it with a different method, I will step back and let him begin to take charge.
God has shown throughout history that he is always willing to step aside when we are willing to step up. In Exodus 32, God is letting Moses take responsibility for his people. Something which Moses doesn’t fully appreciate until a few verses later. This is so important because too many Christians are trained to think they are supposed to wait for God to handle things, when in fact, God’s goal is always to work on us, and then have us step up and handle it.
Why God Changes the Rules
And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.” – Mark 10:5 (ESV)
This is one of the most eye-opening verses in the Bible, we so often just pass by. God gave a commandment, not because it was the right thing to do, but because it was the best we could handle. “Oh, but that was the Old Testament. We have all the right commands now.” Oh, really? What about this one:
“Bondservants [slaves], obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart…” – Ephesians 6:5a (ESV)
That verse is completely inappropriate for our time! So why did Paul say it? Because it was the best for the time it was said. Slavery was still common in the time of Christ, and it just wasn’t possible to even think about having the Church overturn such an ingrained social habit. Again, Paul was being pragmatic. Does this mean slavery is OK? Of course not! It means that God knows we cannot fix everything in our world in our lifetime, and we have to *gasp* use our own good judgement on what our time and place demands of our character.
So it isn’t so much that God is changing the rules, he is, again, simply being pragmatic. He wants us to do the best we can in our circumstances. Does that mean the “right thing” is not always perfectly clear and defined? Yup.
Let’s Be Honest, Jesus Didn’t Tell Us Everything.
I have learned a lot of things in life, some from parents, some from mentors, and some from experience that is NOT in the Bible. We all have. The teachings of Jesus Christ, and the apostles, are not an instruction book for life. They are more of a compass. What we learn from Jesus isn’t how to live, it’s what we are living FOR. We have a corner-stone, a foundation of love, and then it is up to us to learn the rest.
Scripture Is Pragmatic
There is a lot of debate on how reliable, literal, or infallible the Bible is, especially here on RLC. Understanding that God himself, and therefore Scripture, is written pragmatically could go a long way to resolving these issues. It means that we can trust Scripture to be accurate, reliable, and even literal… but to the time, place, and culture it was written to. In other words, it isn’t that Scripture is inconsistent, it means that WE are.
We need to learn to read the advice and instruction given by the apostles in the New Testament as eternal principles applied to a moment in time. The principles are unwavering, but the applications are always evolving.
If You Aren’t Thinking, You Aren’t Growing
This is why we can’t rest on our laurels. We need to be constantly scrutinizing our churches, examining our behavior, and questioning our traditions. What the “right thing” to do a hundred years ago, may not be the “right thing” today. We have to struggle together, talk together, and be free to have conversations and use common sense.
Communities like RLC are so important because the Church, those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ have more responsibility to be constantly examining our actions and behavior than anyone. This isn’t about being “self-hating Christians” or “criticizing the Church” it is about growing up. In the end, the wisdom and understanding needed to change the world and do real good will not come from the past, but from working together in the present.