The key to understanding God's plan for your life is knowing how to understand the Holy Bible.
The Bible is not the living Word of God - Jesus is! We shouldn't worship the Bible. It is a mini library - a collection of writings (mostly pre-Christian Jewish ones) which men who loved God and were inspired by Him, wrote to specific people or groups of people over many years in many differing circumstances and cultures. Then they were collected together at certain times by Jewish holy men and Christian holy men as a tool to teach their people the orthodox beliefs of their religion.
The early church accepted the Jewish scriptures as their Bible. Later on, when various strange teaching were beginning to be spread, the Christian leaders pulled together writings which were agreed to be Apostolic and orthodox Christian writings reflecting the beliefs of the Apostles.
For example, the Apostle Paul wrote a couple of pastoral letters to the Christians at Corinth where there were particular circumstances that he felt needed addressing. Many years later the church council that originally included these two letters in the New Testament canon (a word that means rule or plumbline, i.e. something that could be used to show what was "straight up" teaching as opposed to a bit dodgy).
Do you think that Paul ever intended his letters to become "the Word of God"? I think he would be amazed to hear sections read out in churches today followed by "This is the Word of the LORD", "Thanks be to God." Sure he was inspired by God and his writings should be given due weight and will benefit us greatly. But he wasn't infallible and neither were his letters.
Misunderstanding how to interpret the Bible has led to abuses and pain. So we need to approach this subject prayerfully and seriously.
The Bible is a dangerous book in the wrong hands. Over the years it has been used to justify warfare/pacifism, slavery, capital punishment, ethnic cleansing, polygamy/monogamy, capitalism/communism, and most of the other isms that mankind has tried.
Most Christians believe that they accept the Bible as the Word of God and that they understand what it means. They are usually only half right.
The general idea is that the Bible was given to us as God's instruction book for Christian living and that therefore it's essentially simple to understand if we assume that it's full of instructions on how we are to conduct our lives as long as we approach it with a converted mind and a desire to obey God as led by the Holy Spirit.
Supposedly, "the secret things of God are hidden from the world but revealed to babes in Christ." The fact that most denominations come up with wildly varying doctrines about everything from church government to baptism to standards of ethical conduct should be a clue. It should nudge us in the direction of recognising that the Bible maybe isn't as simple to understand as we thought at first.
Have you ever heard someone say that classic line, "God said it - I believe it and that settles it"? Yes, so have I. Usually on the subject of trusting in a "healing scripture". The trouble is that (and this is my own personal experience) most people who trust in God for healing don't get healed. But, amazingly, they don't go back and say "Did I perhaps misinterpret the Scripture?" "Why didn't it work?" "What did I do wrong?" No, they just shrug their shoulders and carry on until the next health crisis comes along and then try to "believe for their healing" again.
I have heard it described in this way so many times. It's as if it were a manual that came with your new car. The manual tells you how the different parts function and how to get it started and how to run and maintain the car etc. etc. It tells you of some of the common faults and shows you what to do when certain problems arise and so on.
People say that the Bible is God's manual that he sent with his product "mankind". It gives the maker's instructions about what to do when certain things happen. All you have to do is find the appropriate section and follow the instructions.
It's because there's a half truth in it that this idea is so dangerous.
For example! In all sincerity, we could turn to Old Testament scriptures that tell us not to allow a witch to live, or to keep the Sabbath holy as an eternal ordinance or to avoid eating pork or shellfish, or 101 other old covenant laws that no longer apply to Christians.
Alternatively we could turn to New Testament scriptures that tell us not to allow a woman to speak in church or to have authority over a man, or that we should tell Gentile Christians to avoid eating certain types of foods or that we must give a tenth of our increase to the temple in Jerusalem, etc. etc.
But by that I mean that it is a record of what human beings have written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to communicate many different things over a long period of time that encompass many cultures and peoples and languages. True, some of these were points of doctrine, (but even here when we look into it honestly we have to admit that the doctrines of the Bible are evolving throughout its pages). But some parts were poems. Some were prayers. There were stories, parables that were not meant to be taken literally in every point but were stories told to illustrate a certain key principle. There were letters to individuals, letters to groups of people, historical narratives, allegorical stories, a love song, songs, proverbs, descriptive narratives etc. etc.
Even those parts that were written as doctrinal guidelines were written to historical people in a certain context. Yes, they were inspired by the Holy Spirit but the writers had in mind a specific audience. They were not thinking "I must make these words apply as an eternal truth to be applied without variation for all generations of people everywhere under all circumstances." What they wrote was true for the situation that they addressed. It may be equally true for us today. On the other hand it may need to be reinterpreted so that the principle that they were applying can be correctly applied to the 21st Century. Only in this way can we actually be faithful to the heart and intent of the original text. Yes, the Bible is authoritative for us, but we have to understand how it was intended to be understood and applied. It wasn't written as a workshop manual. It was written to point us to Jesus.
Let me give you a concrete example
In the very early days of the Christian Church a crisis arose. Now, it had started out being made up entirely of Jews who were zealous for obeying all of God's laws in the Old Covenant. They were Christians but they were also good Jews too.
Then quite rapidly a lot of Gentiles started to get saved. What on earth were the apostles to require of these Gentile converts? If they just allowed them to carry on as they had been then they would make any Jewish Christians who came into contact with them ceremonially unclean (something which they believed at the time was important to avoid), but if they required that they follow all the dietary and ritualistic laws that the Jews followed then they would be putting them under a burden of bondage that Jesus never intended.
Well, things came to a head when some Jews from Jerusalem came to the Gentile believers and told them they had to be circumcised (and keep the Old Covenant law) if they were to be saved. Saul and Barnabus knew this was wrong so they got into some hot disputes and eventually sent a delegation to the Apostles and elders at Jerusalem to sort it out.
They talked it over at great length and then James (the senior man in the Jerusalem assembly) said,
"It is my judgement...that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (Acts 15:19, 20)
This was accepted by all present as the authoritative decision.
Now this is a teaching from the New Testament. It's from the church era, from the leader of the Jerusalem (headquarters?) church. From the church when it was very close to the time of Jesus' life, before lots of "error" could have crept in. It's a general ruling, not just for a few people but an overall decision regarding all the Gentile believers!
But have you ever heard any minister teaching that as doctrine today? For one thing we don't treat Gentile Christians any differently from Jewish Christians nowadays. For another, apart from a few fringe sects, no mainstream Christian denomination teaches that believers are to abstain from blood or the meat of strangled animals.
It is scripture though isn't it?
Yes of course and it is there for our teaching and edification. But it requires interpretation. We need to look at the circumstances, the prevailing beliefs, and the attitude of those concerned and apply the same principles of not causing offence to any sister and also of not burdening any brother with unnecessary legalistic practices.
If we apply such principles in this case (where it is obvious that we must) doesn't it show you that we must use such principles of interpretation whenever we read God's Word?
This example is extremely important because most Christians believe that all they need do to prove a doctrine is right is to find a clear statement somewhere in the Bible (preferably the New Testament - that's safer) and then we must believe it and obey it.
For example many believe that Christians are required by God to tithe today. They may quote the Old Testament for this:
"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, 'How do we rob you?' In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse - the whole nation of you - because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." (Malachi 3:8-10)
Or, more likely they will quote the New Testament verses in Matthew 23:23
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, WITHOUT NEGLECTING THE FORMER."
These "proof texts" are often used to conclusively demonstrate to congregations that they should be giving a tenth of their income to the church. But if you look at the example of James' pronouncement in Acts 15 you can see that we have to look at who the message was for, in what context, what was their level of understanding and ask yourself the question "What is the spirit of this instruction and how can I apply that in my own life today in the 21st century?
Actually, regarding the giving of a tithe, what God requires of a Christian today is much more demanding. We can't just count off 10% and then smugly say we have done all that is required of us. God looks on the heart and we should look at 100% of what we have and be prepared to use it in whatever way God would have us. For some this means giving more than 10% of our income at times. For others undoubtedly less as they provide for their children and dependents etc. first. What God is looking for is yielded hearts - not cash.
Carnal Christians can respond to quotes of Malachi 3 and give in order to get the blessings. This is not God's best.
But to get back to Acts 15... This shows us clearly that we don't just find a "proof text" and then apply it to today without understanding.
There are many examples that show this same principle in the book of Acts. In chapter 1 they chose Judas' successor by casting lots and asking God to direct their choice. So this is certainly Biblical (Old and New Testament) but it's not the only or best way to choose leaders necessarily. (In Acts 6 they chose a different method of appointing the deacons and asked the church members to come up with seven names themselves).
In Acts 4 it shows how the believers lived together sharing their belongings. It says that no-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own. This was marvellous at the time but not necessarily a pattern for us all to follow today.
In Acts 21 the apostle Paul was persuaded to take some men up to the Temple at Jerusalem, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses so they could have their heads shaved. This was to show the people there that he wasn't against the Old Covenant laws. Again this was something locked into the culture of the day - not a pattern for us to follow.
So look again at Acts 15 and see that it quotes the letter from the apostles and elders to the entire Gentile community of believers and it says:
"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality..." (Acts 15:28, 29)
Let me ask you a question. Did it really seem good to the Holy Spirit?
What do you think? Yes or No?
My answer would be "Yes, but it wouldn't seem good to him today." Some scriptural practices were culturally specific and need to be changed according to what culture we are in. Some are right because of the circumstances then but wouldn't apply in the same way today.
One good example of this would be when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
"It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wifeâ€¦Now to the unmarried and to the widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 8-9)
Great eh? Now you could take this as a real downer on marriage or you could look it up and realize they were living in a time of great social upheaval (and one which Paul believed was the very last days before Jesus was coming back to earth) and Paul was saying it;
"Because of the present crisis" (verse 26)
The more you look into it the more you see that there are many scriptures we don't follow literally today and that is quite right. We need to be consistent about how we interpret scripture and not use some as proof texts just because they reinforce our current beliefs but then spiritualize others away because they seem inappropriate to us.
We need a consistent approach.
Jesus is our key to understanding Scripture. First of all he showed us the way by interpreting it himself, setting us an example. Secondly he showed us that Scripture is about him. Jesus said;
"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39, 40)
This applies to all Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. In fact, the Old Testament was the only Scripture that Jesus had. Any method of interpreting and understanding Scripture should be consistent and apply to all of it.
He radically reinterpreted it for his own day.
But notice how he did it. First of all he said that every tiny bit of it was valid.
"I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of God, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:18-19)
He backed up every command in Scripture...Then he changed them!
"It has been said, 'anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' (Deuteronomy 24:1)
"But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery." (Matthew: 31-32)
He looked to the spirit of the command that was given in a previous time to a specific group of people and he radically reinterprets it for his own time to lift the command to a higher level.
Let's carry on...
"Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven for it is God's throne; or by the earth for it is his footstall; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No', 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." (Matthew 5:33-37)
Jesus is actually saying that swearing, as was legitimate under the Old Covenant regime, now "comes from the evil one" under the New Covenant.
That's strong stuff!
But he wasn't doing away with the law - quite the contrary!
How did the Apostle Paul interpret Scripture?
The apostle Paul understood this principle of biblical interpretation when he taught the Gentiles that they didn't need to be circumcised (as was required under the Old Covenant) but that circumcision was a matter of the heart and that was the true spirit and intent of that law. He wrote;
"Circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code... Do we then nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law." (Romans 2:29, 3:31)
What about the Ten Commandments?
Exactly the same principles apply to every part of Scripture, Old and New Testaments alike.
Jesus reinterpreted the Old Testament laws in the light of Himself and the law of love. He said:
"'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'. This is the first and greatest commandment, And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)
The apostle Paul believed the same.
"Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself," Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law." (Romans 13:8-10)
As far as the letter of the law - no. The Law was given to us to lead us to Christ. But as far as the spirit of the 10 Commandments - yes. You see there is always a danger, when you try to codify a law in writing that you slip into legalism. God looks on the heart and it's our attitudes that matter to him. Are we acting out of love for others or out of selfishness? The same physical action could be taken out of good or bad motives.
"So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law." (Galatians 3:24, 25)
It still leads people to Christ. But when we have the mind of Christ, which we do as Christians, we can understand the true spirit of all laws. This gives us freedom to apply the law of love in any given circumstance and there is no condemnation for us for so doing.
(See Romans 8:1-4)
If we face circumstances today where by keeping the true spirit of the law means that we might break the letter of the law then it's valid to do so.
"Surely not!" some will exclaim. But these same people violate the Sabbath every week in all probability. The Sabbath is the seventh day of every week and begins at sunset on Friday and continues until sunset on Saturday. You may feel that you keep the spirit of it by keeping Sunday holy, or by putting regular time aside for God and physical refreshing but this breaks the literal Sabbath if you are not keeping it as God commanded.
Can it ever be 'loving' to kill? If it can - then there would be circumstances when it would be acceptable in God's eyes to kill. It may be illegal in the country you are in, however.
One example would be when a mother gives birth to conjoined twins who will both die unless they are separated. Doctors might be able to save one by separating them and letting the twin who is not independently viable die. What do they do? The loving thing may well be to separate them and let one have a chance of a fruitful life.
There can be many scenarios that emerge in today's world of advances in medical science. We may be able to save a mother if we abort her foetus. Is this wrong?
Doctors routinely administer pain killing drugs to terminally ill patients suffering agony, knowing that the morphine or similar drug will curtail their lives. Is this wrong?
A literalist view of the 10 Commandments makes some Christians shy away from such questions and hide behind prayer as their only solution. But it is better to be mature and responsible and to make decisions based on the law of love and provide help where and when it is needed.
Don't make Jesus' statements your new Law.
Jesus set us an example to free us - not to provide a new set of legalistic chains.
Christians have largely made His interpretation their new law to live by instead of understanding that He interpreted them for His day and we are to (by the same Spirit) interpret them for our day.
When he said to the leper,
"Go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." (Matthew 8:4)
He was talking to a Jew under the Old Covenant - not giving a new law for Christians throughout all time. Similarly when he told the Pharisees to tithe on their herb gardens, he was speaking to people under the Law. We don't follow Jesus literal lifestyle and habits any more than we follow the apostle Paul's, otherwise we would be worshipping at Jerusalem, keeping the Sabbath, only eating "clean" foods, wearing sandals etc. etc.
"From now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer." (1 Corinthians 5:16)
We are meant to interpret it. For example Jesus said, when he took the bread and the wine at the last supper with his disciples:
"Take and eat; this is my body." And then, "This is my blood of the covenant..." (Matthew 26:26, 28)
Do you believe this was literally true? Some Christians do, but it's a difficult position to defend in every case because it's obvious that some statements are allegorical.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
"Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1)
What does this literally mean? Does this mean walk down the same roads in Jerusalem he walked down? Does it mean follow the same religious practices then? Temple worship, circumcision, Sabbath keeping, not eating unclean meats, Feast of Tabernacles etc? Surely most people in the 21st Century realise that that isn't what the apostle meant.
Clearly the words need interpreting. True there might be a number of interpretations of Paul's statement. I, myself, believe that he was talking about walking in love and faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. We each need to reinterpret what this means in today's world. When we have willing hearts and are led by the Holy Spirit then we will have the wisdom from God to apply Scripture appropriately to our lives.
True, we will all see things slightly differently but that is an advantage. We are all individuals. We all face different circumstances. We live in different cultures and times. Yet we can trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church of God in every situation.
Here's an example:
"...I tell you that if any two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 18:19)
How many times have you heard that quoted as "proof" that if we pray the "prayer of agreement" then God is bound to give us what we ask for? The trouble is that it doesn't always work. Come on now... does it?
God won't restrict himself to such a mechanism. It doesn't even say that we have to ask for what is God's will. But even where we ask for something that is good and righteous it doesn't guarantee that God must give us what we request, does it?
The truth is that this verse is part of a teaching on what to do when Christians go to the church leadership to have a dispute settled and it refers to the elders making a ruling that they agree on. God will back up his elders. Unless we realize the context of such a promise then we fall into error. In the same way the laws of the land will back up judges who make a ruling in court. The legal system doesn't have to back up each agreement that every Tom, Dick and Harry make in their local pub.
The promise wasn't a blanket one.
"Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven" (previous verse Matthew 18:18)
There are also many scripture verses that contain statements that I disagree with. This may horrify some people but the truth is that the Bible doesn't present us with a unified set of doctrines. It shows us a development of doctrinal understanding about God and his plan of salvation. It shows us "warts and all" pictures of his servants throughout the past history of mankind. It shows us how God has dealt with his people and brought about his purposes on the earth despite the fact that they had limited knowledge and understanding.
The most important thing to God is not our level of knowledge but our heart and what we do with the knowledge we have. Spiritual knowledge (i.e. intimacy with him causing us to be renewed in our spirits and allow Christ to be formed in us) is more important to God than doctrinal accuracy.
Not that 'true doctrine' isn't important. I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't care passionately about the truth. But be honest, if it were that important to God he could have made many things a lot clearer for us couldn't he?
Okay, so here are a few scriptures that I think contain wrong theology.
I've already mentioned the example of James' pronouncement in Acts 15.
"It is my judgementthat we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood." (Acts 15:19, 20)
This is Biblical! But is it good?
If someone today starts wiping out people, including children, because they say that God has told them to, we tend to make sure they are securely locked up. (Unless, of course, they are leading the country, then they seem to be able to get away with it.)
Is God pleased?
But what if God told you to do it? Surely it's alright to commit genocide or ethnic cleansing if it's God's will?
Ezekiel was an Old Testament prophet too and God told him to use human excrement as fuel to cook his food over. What was Ezekiel's response?
He said to God, "Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself."
Was God angry? Did he strike the man down?
No. He said,
"Very well, I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement." (Ezekiel 4:15)
Do you think we should have more scruples over our own "cleanliness" than about human life? What do think are God's values?
God respects people of conviction and principle.
Here's a New Testament example of this. The apostle Peter was at a friend's house and;
"While the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, 'Get up Peter. Kill and eat.'" (Acts 10:10-13)
Paul's reaction was, "Surely not, Lord!" (verse 14).
Did God strike him down? No of course not. He spoke to him again and explained,
"Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."
Peter still wasn't sure about it until he got a knock on the door from a group of Gentiles. God explained to him, "Simon three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them." Then it finally clicked. God was talking about the Gentiles not food!
Here's another one.
"Do not allow a sorceress to live." (Exodus 22:18)
I think you are getting the point.
There are many instructions in the Bible that we don't (I hope) follow today. Instructions about diet, religious practices, legal duties, family laws (polygamy was allowed) etc. etc.
1 Tim 2
"I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayerâ€¦
...A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing - if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety." (1 Tim 2:8,11-15)
This teaching was very much appropriate for the society of that day but today would be rightly labelled as sexist. It demeans women and prohibits them from ministry that God would call some of them to. Today it's just plain wrong.
Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons. This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply... (Titus 1:12, 13)
This is just plain racism. I wonder what people from Crete feel about this book of the Bible.
"This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven..." (Colossians 1:23)
I don't think so! There are a number of such inaccurate statements but I don't want to appear to be nit picking so I will move on now.
"Surely not", you might say, but actually the Bible says that he does. Not just once either, that could be an unfortunate slip of the stylus, but check out these versesâ€¦
"The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong." (Psalm 5:5)
Actually this includes quite a few people if you think about itâ€¦. What about the next ones?
"â€¦Because they did all these things I abhorred them." (Leviticus 20:23)
"There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him... a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers." (Proverbs 6:16-19)
"Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there...I will no longer love them..." (Hosea 9:15)
Now I don't believe that God hates anyone, and I don't think he ever did in the past either, but the writers of these books did and that is why they wrote these things. We need to interpret the scriptures in the light of what Jesus showed us about the Father.
When the writer of Psalm 58 says "The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked." (verse 10) he is expressing a sentiment that he believed was reflecting God's viewpoint.
A similar point can be made regarding Psalm 137:8-9 where it says,
"O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."
Can you really say that this is how you should feel about anyone's children?
Ah but that's the Old Testament you might say. In the New Testament it's different. Is that so? What about what John the Baptist said in John 3:36?
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the Son will not see life for God's wrath remains on him." (John 3:36)
Now, I can't go along with that. I am thinking of certain people that I know personally who have heard the gospel message and aren't able to accept it yet. I don't think God is full of wrath towards them. They are lovely, genuine caring people. If Jesus was able to ask his Father to "Forgive them because they don't know what they are doing" on behalf of the very people who were crucifying him, then I can't see that the Father's heart would be totally opposite to that.
The Church is not independent of the Bible and the Bible is not independent of the Church. The Bible is the "canon" or rule or plumb line to keep the Church on the right lines. The Bible wasn't handed down from heaven by a divine hand. It was given to us by men. People wrote in their times of God's dealing with them. They wrote within a specific time and context. They were inspired by God but this doesn't mean that God sat on their shoulders whispering words into their ears.
They were led by the Holy Spirit but this didn't make them infallible. It made them inspired. Prophets prophesy in part and we are meant to weigh their statements because we have the same Holy Spirit too.
The Scriptures were written by men and were approved by men as part of the Canon. To be honest, there has never been complete agreement among men about what books constitute the sacred Scriptures, yet there is much agreement nevertheless about the majority of the books.
Yet men cannot just go ahead and come up with new teachings without reference to Scripture. They don't have to have the teaching spelled out in the Bible but the principles should be there and the teaching must not contradict the plain intent of Scripture.
It is as the Holy Spirit leads the Church that he inspires us to understand the Scriptures. The words and stories themselves are locked into the history of their times but they reach out across the centuries to us and provide an anchor as we prayerfully seek to fulfil the original spiritual intent of the God who inspired them. It takes a humble and obedient spirit on our behalf. It takes scholarship on behalf of the translators, commentators and historian who provide the help to us all. It takes submission to the living Spirit of Jesus to come to a mature understanding.
Not every Christian will agree with every other on many doctrinal points. But that isn't important to God. What is important to God is that we love one another and act with mercy and love according to the understanding we have. Sometimes you might find yourself in conflict with your spiritual leadership. You must follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and be obedient to the truth you are shown. However, you are to submit to them and respect their positionsÂ whenever you can. But if doing so would lead you to go against your conscience you should put obedience to God first.
This is perhaps the most fundamental question of our lives but one which many of us fail to stop what we are doing and take time to consider.
Why are you doing what you are doing right now? It may be because:
i. You enjoy doing it.
ii. It reduces or stops you from feeling pain of some kind.Â
iii. You fear the consequences of not doing it.
iv. You feel you have to do it to earn money.
v. You feel it's your duty.
vi. Other people rely on you to do it.
vii. Another completely different reason that is equally valid.
So let's examine these reasons by going a step further and asking why we have those reasons.
Reasons i, ii and iii all are to reduce your suffering or increase your pleasure to some degree. Arguably reason iv comes under the same category because you presumably earn money to do the things that you want with it and that will increase your pleasure and decrease your suffering.
I would argue that reasons v and vi are similar except that they reduce your mental suffering and increase your mental pleasure because it would grieve you to upset or let down someone else. If you have another reason, I suspect that it will boil down to the same thing. We do what we do because we perceive it to be in our best interests overall, either physically, mentally or emotionally, even when we may suffer in some way in order to achieve what, to us, is a more important satisfaction.
Of course, that's a valid reason for doing anything, but is that all that life is about? Are we here to get as much satisfaction/pleasure and to avoid suffering if we can?
Here's what different people say:
Athiests generally believe that life evolved on earth without any higher divine purpose. Living creatures live to maximize their growth and health and wellbeing and to produce offspring so that their species survives. End of story.
In Islam, man's ultimate life objective is to worship the creator Allah (English: God) by abiding by the Divine guidelines revealed in the Qur'an and the Tradition of the Prophet. Earthly life is merely a test, determining one's afterlife, either in Jannah (Paradise) or in Jahannam (Hell).
Self-help books suggest that people should look inwards, at what satisfies their own desires, but the true starting place is with God's purposes for our lives. Real success comes from understanding and fulfilling God's purposes for putting us on earth.
In the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the first question is: "What is the chief end of Man?", that is, "What is Man's main purpose?". The answer is: "Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever".