“If you read a parable of Jesus and you finish it off by patting yourself on the back and thinking, ‘What a nice story,’ you probably missed the point.”
That’s what the pastor at our church said this summer when he preached a series on parables. I couldn’t agree more.
Jesus was a guy who went around telling stories, lots of times adding the disclaimer, “He who has ears, let him hear.”
So many of the people who listened went away scratching their heads and wondering what in the heck he was talking about. Why all this discussion about fruit and sheep and lost things?
Even the disciples struggled, with Jesus having to reiterate and explain Himself more than once.
The Need for Certainty
All through my youth and early adult years, I became convinced that there had to be an absolute interpretation for every passage in the Bible. Including the parables.
I believed that it all came down to how much time and energy I was willing to put into it. If I studied the Bible enough, if I checked off all my “good Christian” squares, and if I prayed enough that I felt like I had a 24/7 connection to the Holy Spirit and His powers of interpretation, then I would understand it all. I would be able to interpret scripture correctly 100% of the time and could then stand firm in my faith (and my pride) with assurance that I was indeed right.
Even though I love the evangelical Church, because it is where I learned to love and follow and worship Jesus, we were always so sure of ourselves there. So certain in the traditional interpretations of every Bible passage, handed down to us by preachers and Sunday School teachers and the almighty Sunday School literature. We rarely if ever questioned it.
And this way of interpreting scripture — taking somebody else’s word for it — is something I’m now having to unlearn in my 40s.
What If I’m Wrong about the Bible?
Things started to get foggy for me several years ago when I noticed American politics creeping into biblical interpretations. I struggled, because it was hard for me to reconcile the goings on of the American government with the teachings of scripture.
After I while, I learned to sit smugly in the knowledge that “they” were wrong about certain passages. I learned to accept it and inwardly smile because “they” were ignorant and “they” just didn’t know any better. It wasn’t their fault, after all. “They” just weren’t as intelligent and educated as I was.
I remember once when I was leading a Bible study and a girl asked me a question that I wasn’t sure about. I couldn’t immediately think of a scripture to back up my answer, but I gave it a Christian-y sounding answer and hoped for the best.
Later on I kicked myself over and over for not knowing exactly what to say, exactly how to answer with certainty. How could I call myself a follower of Jesus if I wasn’t constantly “prepared to give an answer?”
I had convinced myself that I needed to know and be able to correctly interpret every bit of scripture before I would be “acceptable” as a disciple, or even more as a teacher of the Bible.
What a huge weight it was, never allowing myself to be human enough to question or doubt.
How can anyone ever know all there is to know about scripture? How can anyone be absolutely certain that a particular interpretation is the “right” one and the only “right” one?
I got so wrapped up in being “right” that I missed the whole point of scripture in the first place.
This seems to be what’s going on in much of the evangelical church right now. We see pastors, teachers and congregations struggling to keep their heads in the sand and their heads above water, all at the same time. Guess what? It’s not working.
Instead of acknowledging that maybe there are some parts of scripture that aren’t as clear as we originally thought, instead of admitting that perhaps there could be a different interpretation, instead of flat-out conceding that there are things we don’t know — we tend to stick to our guns, defend what we’ve always been taught, and pridefully shun those who might interpret things differently.
I spent my life up on a high horse for far longer than I care to admit.
But I got tired of the pressure and the burden of it all.
Now I am living in the land of “I don’t know.”
I’ve finally reached a place where I am willing to look at scripture, especially the hard parts, and say, “I’m not sure. I don’t know. I don’t have the answer.”
It’s a bit of a scary place to be. Especially when I spent my whole life working toward certainty.
But it’s also an exciting place to be.
Because I’m learning what it really means to trust. To put my faith in the God who does have all the answers, who does know, and who wants me to follow Him even if I don’t understand all the details.
Isn’t that what faith is anyway?
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
If we already know all the answers, why is faith even necessary? If we’re already clear and certain of our own interpretations 100% of the time, why do we need to trust God?
Perhaps this is what God meant when he said we could not come to him unless we had the faith of a child. A child doesn’t know all the answers. A child realizes there are things beyond his understanding, and trusts the grownups in his life to teach, protect, and guide him.
Perhaps this is what God desires of us?
- To simply admit we don’t know.
- To say “I don’t understand. I don’t have the answer. I think it might be this, but I don’t really know for sure.”
- To accept that His ways are higher than ours and that He is unfathomable.
And then to leave it to Him.
Like a child leaving a tangled skein of wool in his mother’s hands, trusting that she can undo the knots and make sense of it all.
Are you willing to say that you might be wrong? Are you willing to admit today that you don’t have all the answers? Are you willing to trust God with what you don’t understand?
That’s what it means to take a leap of faith.
Dear one, God can handle your questions. Bringing your doubts, your uncertainties, your lack of understanding to Him is what trust is all about.
I dare you to admit that maybe you’re wrong. And I dare you to see the difference it just might make.