When the Bible says difficult things

I have selective hearing. When my wife says things that are pleasant to me, I’ll listen attentively. But when she says things that I don’t like, all of a sudden, I cannot hear. When she reminds me afterward of something she told me, my inevitable response is, ‘Did you really say that?’ I’m sure many husbands suffer a similar affliction.

When it comes to hearing from the Bible, many of us have the same problem. We have selective hearing. We listen to what we like to hear and ignore or question what we don’t like to hear.

Persist with listening.

Our current sermon series in Joshua has given us plenty of examples of things that are difficult to hear. There are miracles, like the Jordan River being stopped and people crossing on dry ground; there’s the problem of God commanding holy war against the inhabitants of the Promised Land; and there’s the instance of capital punishment for theft (that’s coming up this Sunday).

Indeed, if you read the Bible enough, you’ll find difficult things to hear all the time. Our modern ears don’t like what the bible has to say about sexuality, judgement and hell, the perils of greed, or the divinity and exclusivity of Jesus. We like it that Jesus is compassionate and forgiving, but we’d prefer him to conform his words to our modern sensibilities.

So, what do we do when we find the Bible difficult to listen to?

Firstly, persist with listening. Don’t switch off in ignorance or disbelief. Like with many things in life, understanding comes with time, perseverance in reflection, and being prepared to have your presuppositions challenged.

Secondly, ask lots of questions. Some questions might be, ‘What does this passage mean in its original context? What does the rest of the Bible say about this issue? How does this passage fit with what the Bible says about the character of God?’ In asking these questions, get some discussion partners: friends and other Christians, or material from qualified experts in the respective fields. One of the best resources around for thinking about difficult questions is John Dickson’s Podcast, ‘Undeceptions’.

Thirdly, have the right disposition. Humility is a friend of wisdom. Humility says, ‘I don’t have complete insight or information about this issue. I need to keep listening, even to things that are difficult.’ Humility is also the friend of perspective. It will say, ‘If the Bible is actually the Word of God, then I can’t be standing in judgement over it declaring what’s right and wrong about it. It should be standing in judgement over me, telling me what’s right and wrong in my life.’

Of course, in all things, we pray asking for God’s help and guidance that we might understand and apply rightly what he says to us.


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