“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind”. (Romans 14:5)
Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, was the subject of a testy little blog today. Specifically, the author attacked the pope’s statement that science is consistent with the Genesis version of the creation. According to this Lutheran pastor, Francis’ statement proves that the pope is indeed the antichrist.
The tone made me giggle a bit, because the author never flat out said anything. Every sentence was “this implies that” and “he alludes” or “this could mean” and so on. The only thing he seemed sure about was that the pope is the antichrist.
It was a ridiculous assertion to me, but that’s okay. He is entitled to his opinion and he is free to share it with all of us. Then we can consider his opinion and decide if it is interesting, life-changing or just his opinion. It’s not a first amendment issue. It is the free will awarded us by God. That same free will allows me to respectfully disagree. With eight billion people in the world, I guess there is a chance that two people have exactly the same opinions on every conceivable thing; but I doubt it!
Lord knows that I have opinions, mixed in with the crazy thoughts. Some of my best conversations with God have centered on my alternate versions of reality. For example, what if God created an earth with dinosaurs and Neanderthals and then…Wham! God sends a big meteor and wipes out everything. Maybe the dinosaurs were pooping too much; or maybe man wasn’t evolving, so to speak, fast enough.
So God comes back to earth in its dark, formless, watery post-meteor condition and gets to work re-creating the place. This time He decides to put man in charge. Thus the Genesis account describes the creation of the time of man. God said “Let there be light!” and the dust settled to bring in the sun, the waters recede etc.
This came up while I was having lunch with two colleagues. One of them knew me well enough to ignore me while I offered my theory of the creation. The other was a Pentecostal minister who proceeded to lambast me and my radical American cult religion. Then he explained the Genesis account to me very loudly and I couldn’t stop him. When I asked why he seemed so mad, he went on for another ten minutes about the infallibility of scripture.
For the record, I believe that all scripture is the inspired Word of God. However, it is worth pointing out that it all was written in ancient Hebrew and Greek for a completely different culture. Cambridge University houses a Bible Study center where hundreds of very learned people still study the scrolls and other first-century documents to better understand what the scriptures meant to people of that era.
Researchers are piecing together what it was like to live back then, as well as language patterns, expressions and other idiosyncrasies in an effort to perfect our translation of God’s word. If we are supposed to be so sure that the Bible is perfect, why have we not packed the scrolls away and moved on?
The brightest minds in the Christian world spend their time looking for alternate scriptural translations; so certainly the rest are free to express an idea or two. We just have to be ready for the reactions that are bound to follow. They will surely range from utter rejection to unrelenting tirades and personal attacks.
Let’s look at poor Pope Francis again for a minute. Besides being called the antichrist, I also read that he wants to change Roman Catholic doctrine and rewrite the Bible to allow same-sex unions, married priests, female priests, divorced priests, lesbian priests, poor priests, democratic priests, scientist priests, Islamic priests, Jewish priests, Martian and communist priests. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he wants to open a dialogue and work with the Protestants! What is he thinking???
Well, I am not a Catholic apologist by any means, but I am a fan of Pope Francis. His style is a breath of fresh air. He has no qualms about broaching sensitive topics, and that is all he is doing. He is starting much-needed and overdue conversations. The gist of what he really says is simply, “Love one another.” Sound familiar?
But much like the befuddled pastor I had lunch with, the reaction of many Christian leaders and traditionalists is to attack anything that doesn’t sound exactly right. Anyone who thinks differently than they do is a heretic, a false teacher or worse.
Many of the most zealous Christians are living their lives based on exactly what they were taught by other men. There is no room for discussion or change. And that’s a shame because I feel that Jesus actually gives us quite a bit of wiggle room on many things. Besides, what’s the use of free will if we are supposed to blindly follow what a preacher tells us? I cannot believe that this is what Jesus wants.
Preaching is great. I like listening to a good sermon. But its purpose is not to dictate; it is to make us think. A great preacher gives us something to reflect on. A good sermon starts conversations, whether at the church or at home or in the car, where ever.
Our faith is a personal thing. It is not what a preacher, well-meaning zealots, the pope, or even right-wing politicians tell us it should be. Faith is strictly between us and God. It has to be, because men will always disagree and misunderstand each other. Only God truly understands what is in our hearts.
As good Christians, I believe we should take time to entertain theories and the beliefs of others. We shouldn’t reflexively argue and we should never ridicule them. Think about what they believe. It's okay! With faith, we can trust that God will keep us strong in our relationship with Him, as the author below eloquently asserts.
"People of strong faith are not afraid to explore possibilities, entertain differing opinions or to investigate contradictory translations. With God in their hearts, they can navigate an alternate route and recognize the dangers along the way. If the road proves to lead anywhere other than the gates of heaven, they trust the Spirit will guide them back to the narrow path. If they are blessed, they will come back to Jesus with more than they left with." -PJ Joseph