God Is Love!
A couple of lessons back, I introduced you to three kinds of errors that Bible students commonly make. I started with distractions, which might make an entertaining hobby, but add very little to your understanding for the amount of time you spend with them. Next I talked about secret clubs, mysterious trails that feel like great discoveries, but actually lead to pride and division.
In this lesson, we’ll take a look at the third category: Sentimentality.
“I can’t believe a loving God would do that.”
“Listen to your heart. Your heart knows what’s right.”
What’s a word for someone who finds their way by feeling? Blind.
Everybody is familiar with John’s statement in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love”, but too many people today think that it means love is God. This is a terrible error. Just a few verses farther on, John explained that love is defined by the commandments of God. To paraphrase 1 John 5:2-3, “We know that we love the children of God if we love God, and we know that we love God if we are keeping his commandments.”
God created love like he created everything else, but elevating love above God is worse than animistic religions that worship animals, trees, and other creations. When people subconsciously translate “God is love” into “love is God”, they don’t mean the love that God created, but their own idea of love, a thing of their own creation.
They are making themselves out to be God: the creator and judge of all that is good and right.
Feelings, intuition, instinct…
These are all good things that God built into us just like our eyes and ears. They are tools we can use to sense and interpret the world around us as well as the written word. They are channels through which God communicates to us, but God isn’t the only one who uses them. Other people, ungodly spirits, and even our own desires can communicate with us through these channels too. It can be very difficult to tell which is which.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether we like anything that God does or says. It doesn’t matter whether or not we like his rules. The world and everything in it, including you and me, belongs to God. He makes the rules, not us. He defines right and wrong, not us. Our emotions are meant to help us understand Scripture, not to define it for us.
Puppies are wonderful…but we don’t build doctrine on cuteness.
If we don’t like how a Bible verse makes us feel, the right thing to do isn’t to reinterpret the verse to fit our sentiment, but to pray and to keep studying until we are sure that we understand what God intended the verse to say. If our understanding of a verse doesn’t align with the rest of Scripture–because all of Scripture is a unified whole–then our understanding is wrong.
Don’t Be Blinded by the Maudlin Light
To keep from getting blinded by sentimentality, whenever you feel offended, shocked, or otherwise disturbed by what a Bible passage seems to be saying, and you tell yourself that it can’t possibly mean what it seems to be saying, ask yourself these two questions:
- Is your understanding of the passage in question supported by at least two other unambiguous passages?
- Does your understanding make the passage to mean something that is in clear contradiction to other passages?
If your answer to the first question is no or your answer to the second question is yes, then you are probably allowing your personal feelings to interfere with what God is trying to tell you. Remember that the process of working out your salvation (Philippians 2:12) involves being “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2), so that what you think and feel now is necessarily flawed and needs to be retrained to align with Scripture.
The One Rule to avoid distractions, secret clubs, and sentimentality
You probably noticed while you read these three lessons that there was one rule that can help keep you from getting lost in all three kinds of weed patches: Treat the Bible as a unified whole. Every book must be read and interpreted so that it agrees with the rest, and unclear passages must be interpreted in light of clear passages. I’ll talk more about that in a future installment. For now, I want you to remember this:
We are human and imperfect. Mistakes are inevitable. It’s unlikely that any of us will ever attain a perfect understanding of anything in our lifetimes, and we must never allow our pride to tell us otherwise. Our goal in studying the Bible is to learn God’s ways and allow him to mold our lives and our thinking into his image, not to force the Bible into the image of modern sensibilities.
So keep reading and use these rules as guideposts to help you stay on the right trail and out of the weeds.
P.S. Remember those vines with the mitten-shaped leaves that caught Frank’s attention in the lesson about Distractions? Let me save you a little trouble–or a lot. They’re poisonous. Don’t eat them.