Sunday, September 16, 2012

Noah, absolute truth, and 21st century Pharisees

Sunday afternoon rides home from church are often my favorite. (Sunday mornings after a frazzled start, not always as pleasant.) Sometimes Bubby talks about his lessons, songs, friends.  Other times The Hubs and I discuss the sermon or the conversation in our Common Ground class.  Today our conversation evolved from the sermon topic to thoughts about truth (absolute and relative) and Pharisees.

Our young adult pastor spoke on Noah today, and I learned something new.  It took Noah 120 years to build the ark. So the other people on earth had 120 years to decide to join Noah under God's grace and protection in the ark.  But they did not make that choice. I think I always assumed God had judged Noah's contemporaries pretty quickly, and I had struggled with the judgment vs. grace aspect of God. This gave me a glimpse at a different facet of God.  I appreciated that our pastor gave me the whole picture of the Noah account - the grace and the judgment of God, as well as the story of Noah's faith.

That discussion led The Hubs and me to converse about how to tell people truth (whether that be about religion or money or politics or anything even lighter than that).  I came to the conclusion that we are supposed to tell all people truth, but people who have the Holy Spirit are to be held to a higher standard because without Him a person cannot really know truth.  We live in an era of relative truth, and I think that is mostly because so many people are living without the Author of Truth in their lives.  How can one believe there is absolute truth about anything if they do not understand The Truth?  I think any truth anyone finds apart from God (and it is possible because all truth is God's truth) is by luck or His grace or some combo.

We then started talking about accountability.  If a non-believer does something that is hurtful, destructive, or just ill-informed, yes we need to say something because love does confront. However, we should not be surprised (or even really offended) if they do not see things our way or change.  But what about the believers, those who have the Holy Spirit in them but reject truth and reject accountability?  What about the believers who just want a kumbaya warm fuzzy feeling all of the time, especially when advocating those feelings makes life easier for them or serves them in some way? 

I believe we are called to confront them in love, and sometimes love is tough. Sometimes love does not tell you the things you want to hear, but instead it tells you the things you need to hear.  As we listen to the Holy Spirit, we are able to discern how He wants us to handle our brothers and sisters. And sometimes the Church does not understand why it can't be all warm and fuzzy all of the time. Jesus was gentle with truth seekers (think woman at the well, centurion, etc) , but He was pretty harsh with truth distorters (Pharisees). Sometimes truth tellers are quickly mislabeled  hypocrites and Pharisees.


Pharisees in Jesus' day were religious leaders who distorted the Law for their own glory - for power, for prestige, for what they thought would gain them brownie points with God. They took things that were true and good, and twisted it for legalistic purposes. Today we always use the term legalistic and Pharisee interchangeably.  However, I think today our Pharisees are not usually legalistic.  I think a 21st century Pharisee distorts God's word for his/her own glory - by watering it down - by picking and choosing what makes it pleasant for others to hear rather than preaching the whole Truth.

The first century Pharisee manipulated God's Word and created hindrances for people trying to find Him.  Today's Pharisee manipulates God's Word and creates an atmosphere in which people needing a relationship with God are told they can do what they want without consequences. Both are destructive to the delivery of the Gospel.

As a Christian wrestling with the ideas of truth, grace, sin, love, and justice, I am keeping this in mind:
  • We are to be loving and helpful to truth seekers - to those who still need to accept Jesus as the Way, the truth, the life.
  • We are to be loving yet persistent to truth distorters (which can mean tough love and accountablity). Jesus didn't ignore the religious leaders of His day when they manipulated the Word of God.
  • And ultimately, we are to BE loving truth tellers.

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