A Courteous Contrararian

Religion of Peace Part 5

Written By: Jon Jaroszewski - May• 05•15

We’ve been thinking about how the meanings of certain passages are changed over time, when God has finally made us ready to perceive them in a new way. We looked at Jesus and Isaiah as they told us we would see and hear parts of God’s word but not understand them.

We surmised that God wasn’t hiding things – they have always been part of our texts – he was making us ready for a more complete understanding. So we could be saved. So we could be healed.

We have a couple of scriptures that point out God’s continual efforts to help us understand; that show he is not hiding certain ideas. One is from our old friend Isaiah and one is from Paul, who quotes Isaiah in exactly the same context.

All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations [Isaiah 65:2 NIV]
But concerning Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.” [Romans 10:21 NIV] God’s hands are an anthropomorphism for his effort. And all day long doesn’t mean God tried hard for a day, it means he never gives up. The Israelites were seeing but not perceiving but it wasn’t due to God hiding the truths from them. Paul probably understood this better then even Isaiah did.

Paul also talks about mysteries a lot. When he does, he doesn’t usually mean ideas that weren’t previously in the Bible, he means ideas that were always there but that the people didn’t understand in the way they were meant. In fact, as proof, he would back his ‘mysteries’ with citations from the Hebrew Bible.

What might this all mean to us today? A few things, and I think you might find them surprising. But first we have one more idea to consider. We have to answer an important question. Are these changes in how we interpret Scripture a one-off event, the work of Jesus and the Apostles only, or is the process continuing?

I gave part of my answer already. Luther and Calvin reshaped how we think about God. But they could only do so because God had finally made a significant number of people ready to grasp their ideas. Society and technology were maturing enough to support them. Luther and Calvin came in their own fullness of time.

Even today we are being changed by God and made ready for new things. The End-Times verses are viewed differently in America than they were two hundred years ago. Heck, they’re viewed differently than they were 30 years ago.

The Pentecostal movements and its children are newer still. I think they may be God’s way of saying, “Have you forgotten the Holy Spirit?”

The Baptists, the people I come from, are not immune. You’d think the conservative branch never changes but it does. I hear about brokenness and wounds though I never did twenty years ago. Christus Victor is even making an occasional cameo on Moody, whether they realize it or not.  Sermons are far different than they were 30 years ago. And 50, and 100, and … Not many of us would enjoy a more typical sermon series from 200 years ago. Or agree with some of what the preacher said.

The intellectual battles between Jesus and the Pharisees weren’t a matter of God vs. unbelievers, they were between God and misbelievers. Paul said the Jews were zealous for God but without knowledge. Of course the Pharisees were very knowledgeable in Bible matters, but they couldn’t take into account the fresh work of God.

We almost shouldn’t blame them for it because new revelation from God is a scary thing. Think about it, the whole of the OT was a progressive revelation. Each of the 39 books taught us things we didn’t know before. The Pharisees thought they had it down pat, but that was probably due to the fact that there hadn’t been any fresh revelation for hundreds of years.

Today we are in the same boat. There hasn’t been new revelation for 2000 years. Or has there? What about the work, all day long, of the Holy Spirit? He isn’t bringing us new books of the Bible, he doesn’t have to, the ones we have are sufficient. But he does help us understand them in a new way. That’s what Paul did with the ‘mysteries’. That’s what Luther did. That what Calvin did. And Augustine and Aquinas. The list goes on and it always will, until Jesus returns.

Even the conservative church changes, although ever so slowly. Today, on Moody radio and from our pulpits we speak of a God of love. It is a far cry from Jonathan Edward’s famous Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, a God who dangles sinners over the pit of Hell…

much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else (Thanks to Frank Viola blogging on Patheos for that quote.)

Yeow! Should we tell our unbelieving friends and family that they are loathsome insects? Perhaps not, unless we are 21st century Pharisees. We have to roll with the changes God has wrought in our midst. As he works all day long to help us understand better. Because, don’t forget, he is always at work to this very day.

So when someone appeals to tradition, when someone says, “Oh, you have some new understanding that no one has grasped in the last 2000 years?” you can tell them that is how God works and has always worked and that is how the Bible works and has always worked.

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