The best place to find criteria for talking about ethics and interpretation will be in Christian discourse itself… I take my stand with a quotation from an impeccably traditional witness, Augustine, who wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of neighbor does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine 1.35.40).
By this light, any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable.
I came across this quote recently from another blog. While it may sound “nice” and “good” – I believe that it is fundamentally flawed.
The book of Jeremiah tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9)
Now that may hurt some people. Most of us like to think that we are honest, that we have good intentions, that our hearts are pure. I usually think I am a pretty good guy. I try to be honest and obey the law and do good things. I like to feel good about myself.
BUT – when I am really honest, when I truly examine my soul, I find that Jeremiah is right. I am not really that honest. I even lie to God on a regular basis (how dumb is that?) with prayers like, “God, the thing I want most is to follow you.” I’m terrified that God will say one day, “Fine, if that is what you want the most, I want you to give up coffee, fast for 40 days, sell all your possessions and give them all away to the poor and follow me.”
We are not honest people. If you have ever been pulled over by police for speeding, you know that they ask you a question like, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” How many of you have answered that honestly? “Yes office, you caught me on your radar gun. If you have shot it at me last night though, you would have gotten me for 20 miles an hour over – not just 10. And by the way, I didn’t use a turn signal as required by law and I tailgated the person in front of me.”
How about good intentions? Do you have good intentions in everything you do? At best, you might honestly say, “Sometimes” or “Well, they are not intentionally bad.” Usually our intentions are neither good nor bad, they just are. We are not thinking about glorifying God or helping others – we just want to get our own way.
Let jump to another thought. “ any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people” – Jesus made all kinds of hurtful statements. John the baptizer called people a bunch of snakes. Wow! I guess we better cut those things out of the Bible. It hurts people to be called out for sin and evil. We can’t say anything that might make Hitler or Stalin feel bad.
If you take out all of the commands to REPENT and TURN FROM YOUR WICKED WAYS from the Bible, you are basically left with a bunch of stories and a message like, “I’m OK, you’re OK”.
The Bible is clear – I’m not OK before God and you are not OK before God without God’s work and intervention. In fact, we are so bad and so guilty – the only thing that would make it right is the death of Jesus Christ, the lamb slain before the foundations of the world.
Will God ever pass judgment? Will God ever hold a person to account for their sins? Will God be the one to decide right and wrong – will we continue to swallow the lie that was first told in the Garden of Eden, “You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4-5).