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Read the Bible like an Unbeliever
I've discovered a huge benefit to my exchanges with folks who don't share my faith or my confidence in the Bible as God's Word. I'm reading the Bible now like an unbeliever. Over the years, we Christians develop a habit of giving God the benefit of the doubt when we approach apparent contradictions and hard-to-digest sections of Scripture. Rightly so. We start from the vantage point of a risen Savior who validates our faith and claims our love and loyalty. We then treat troubling texts like we treat character flaws in a loved one. We overlook them and focus on what we like. It helps to remember that we present our own set of flaws as well. But I digress.
Unbelievers don't approach the Scriptures that way at all. Why should they? Instead, their attention is drawn to every "flaw" in Scripture like our eyes spot the stain on a white shirt. These, then, are regarded as reason to reject the whole. So, without giving up our love for the Lord and respect for his Word, might we not show love to those who oppose us by looking at Scripture from their point of view? As we do, we'll find our own faith strengthened as well.
So I'm reading Psalm 41
It's quiet, everyone else in the house is still asleep. Perfect time to spend with the Lord. David, in this psalm seeks the Lord's face regarding his plight before his enemies. He admits his sin. "As for me, I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me for I have sinned against you." (vs.4). So far, so good. He reports, "Even my close friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heal against me." (vs.9) I've faced that. Sure you have too. "But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up that I may repay them!" (vs.10)
Not so fast David! Here's where an unbeliever would call us out. "Isn't Christianity all about love? Didn't Jesus teach that you should love your enemies?" If the skeptic knows the Bible, he may even quote Hebrews 10:30 back to us. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay"?
If we are men and women of integrity, we must not shrug this off and give David a pass here.
What to say?
First, remember that to believe that the Bible is inerrant and reliable doesn't mean that every character in Scripture always speaks what is commendable. Rather, the Bible reports accurately what has been said, or in this case, written. That David expresses a sentiment that may be inconsistent with God's holy and loving character reassures us that we may come to Him with whatever is on our hearts. We don't have to fllter our sentiments though a theologically correct grid before we present them to God.
But secondly, let's not assume that David's sentiments are offensive to God. In the OT God had established a divide between his people and all others. To Abraham he promised, "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." (Gen.12:3) This means that the enemies of God's people are the enemies of God. So David recognizes those who oppose him as opposing God. As King of Israel, he rightly expects to push back against all God's enemies. This doesn't give every individual citizen the right to take veangance into his own hands. David is in a unique position.
In Old Testament times God called out a people and formed them into a civil unit with all the rights of a sovereign nation. As long as this nation conducted itself in accord with God's laws, it prospered and modeled to the whole world what a godly society could be. Sadly it failed at many points. But the nation was only a temporary precursor to the every-tribe-and-nation character of the church today. We don't possess the rights of a sovereign nation. So ours is not to take revenge upon God's enemies. But we may adopt David's Psalm 41 sentiment regarding all that is evil. Would that Christian express humble indignation toward child abuse and slavery and greed and exploitation and take every measure available to us to push back against them.
But, like David, we must begin with the corruption we find in our own hearts. Perhaps, unbelievers, put off at the intellectual level, will take notice of the transformative power of the gospel. They might even take a second look at the Bible.