God's Laws vs My Opinions
The Authority of the Bible, Part VII: My response to when I'm told that I choose my own feelings and opinions over and against the clear, Biblical laws of God.
This is Part 7 of my current series on “The Authority of the Bible.” If you need to catch up:
I find myself increasingly annoyed at the ways in which I (and other progressive Christians like me) are being misrepresented by our more conservative siblings of the faith.
Actually, let me clarify that: to the degree that I get annoyed at stuff like that (which is, on the whole, a very tiny amount), being misrepresented is one of the most common contributors to said annoyance.
In other words, by and large I don’t really care what evangelicals think of me.’
Reading over and over again that I’m a false prophet, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or a dangerous leader of lies… even in significant doses these accusations land nary a blow against my sense of well-being.
But if I had to pick a particular pebble in my Christian shoe that irritates me on the reg, I’d probably go with the ways in which conservative Christians straw-man me to be a person who, as one commenter wrote on this Instagram post, “chooses my own opinions over Biblical law and facts,” or another guy on that same post who told me that I’m sinning by elevating my own opinions over the truths of God, or, yet one more guy who told me, “you’re just replacing the Bible with yourself as the authority.”
In a nutshell, according to my anti-fans: Should the Laws of God conflict with my own feelings or opinions, I favor myself over God.
Obvious Disregard for the Law
The assumption here (as far as I can tell... plus, as you well know, these are assumptions I used to hold as well, so I’m pretty familiar with them) is that there exists objective, unchanging, obvious Divine Laws prescribed by God. And, furthermore, not only do such laws exist, they are fully evident and entirely knowable by us as humans.
They are (believed to be) so obvious, in fact, that one can even determine when another person—even a stranger on the internet!—is failing to abide by these laws. Hence people making accusations that I am intentionally and purposely disregarding the plain, obvious, objective Laws of God in favor of my own subjective, personal feelings and preferences.
Whew. That’s heavy. And a bit presumptuous.
Here’s a few analogies to illustrate what it is people think I (and other progressive Christians like me) do.
God’s laws are like speed limit signs, clearly posted along the highway. Look, here comes Speedy McMartin (aka, me)! He looks right at the 65 MPH sign, laughs, and blazes past it going 85… because it feels good to go fast. 🚗 💨
God’s laws are like a No Trespassing sign on someone’s private property. Look, here comes Curious LeColby (still me)! He reads the sign, shrugs, and passes right by it on his way to dance a jig on the lawn… because dancing feels good. 🕺
God’s laws are like the IRS tax code, requiring citizens to pay a portion of their income for the betterment of society. Look, here comes Greedy Gus (still me, I just ran out of clever names for myself)! He rolls his eyes every April 15th, much preferring to keep all of his hard earned money, while also being of the opinion that Uncle Sam just wastes people’s taxes anyway. 💰
In these three examples, I am, by all accounts, a real jerk. Arrogant, petulant, and (as the Bible might put it) full of folly.
In this framework, the Laws are clear and evident, but there I go choosing my own feelings and opinions instead.
I submit to you, dear reader, that if that indeed is what I am doing as it relates to the Laws of God, then I guess conservative/evangelical Christians are right to accuse me of replacing myself with the Bible and choosing my own opinions over God’s Law.
I’m reminded of my article from last week, about how everyone who even remotely tries to take the Bible seriously partakes in a sort of “picking and choosing.” If you missed it, I suggested the phrase “pick and choose” is just a sort of slang for, “applying particular principles of interpretation.” In other words, what you might call “picking and choosing” the texts I like and want to follow (and those I don’t), I would call, “using historical and literary context to properly understand how and if these words apply and in what way.”
Imaginary Conversation with an Evangelical: AKA, Brad is Back
Last week we had a very helpful conversation with Brad, who represented many of the conservative/evangelical Christians I know and interact with. Since he was so helpful last week I thought we’d bring him back again to keep talking about this stuff.
Me: Hey Brad, welcome back!
Brad: Yeah, thanks. I was reluctant at first, but then, I really felt like you got me last week. Like… you were in my head.
Me: I have that effect on people.
Brad: I’m sure you do. So, what’s up?
Me: I’ve noticed lately that you keep insisting that I reject God’s Laws in favor of my own feelings and opinions. Do I have that right?
Brad: Yeah, that’s right. I’m the one who keeps Liking all those comments on your Instagram when people accuse you of choosing your own opinions over Biblical facts. I won’t actually write out the comment—I’ve got more tact than that—but I’ll definitely Like others when they do.
Me: I’m not sure how I feel about that.... anyway, can I ask you a few questions? A sort of Part II to our convo from last week? Specifically regarding this idea that I reject God’s Laws and just go with my own desires…
Brad: Fire away.
Me: Awesome. Let’s start here. What classifies as “God’s Law” in your mind?
Brad: Well, the Bible.
Me: Okay, try and narrow it down a bit for me. Be specific. If you’re claiming that I reject God’s Laws, to what are you referring? Because I can’t help but notice that shirt you’re wearing.
Brad: What about it?
Me: It looks like a cotton/poly blend, which is a pretty blatant violation of Leviticus 19:19. That’s an actual verse, Brad, in the Bible, about a Law that supposedly God gave to Israel. And you’re not following it.
Brad: I don’t have to follow the Levitical laws. Those don’t apply to us today.
Me: So you’re saying they used to be God’s laws, but now they’re not? And you’re certain of this?
Me: What about the Ten Commandments. Those are clearly laws, from God, for humans. Are those laws we need to follow?
Brad: Yeah, I think so.
Me: Even though they’re in the Old Testament, like Leviticus?
Brad: Um... yes...?
Me: Can you explain your actions from last Saturday, then?
Brad: Huh? Um, I mowed the lawn... did some laundry... filed my taxes...
Me: Exactly, and yet, the fourth commandment explicitly says not to work.
Brad: Okay, sure, but not like, literally.
Me: What do you mean?
Brad: That’s just like, in general, you know... like, take it easy or something… I don’t know... it’s just not literally “don’t do work...”
Me: Except, that’s precisely how ancient Jews--you know, the ones these Commandments were actually given to--understood it. It was very literal for them. Just like, “you shall not murder,” commandment number six, was pretty literal.
Brad: Stop trying to trick me.
Me: Brad, I’m not! Truly. What I’m trying to get at is what you mean when you talk about “God’s Laws.” Because you talk as though they are so easily knowable and discernible, and yet right out the gate we seem to be struggling to nail down how we know which laws in the Bible are God’s Laws. You can’t insist that I’m ignoring “God’s Laws” if you can’t also state what those laws are and how you know I’m ignoring them.
Brad: Like I said, Colby, it’s in the Bible.
Me: And like I said, Brad, that’s a useless answer. Because I just named something that was in the Bible, and you found a way for it to not really technically be one of God’s laws we have to follow.
Brad: Okay, well also I forgot, the New Testament actually repeats nine of the ten commandments anyway... all of them except the fourth one, about the Sabbath. So really, all those original Laws of God do still apply, I guess, because they’re repeated in the New Testament. So my “working” on Saturday was fine, I wasn’t violating God’s laws.
Me: Then, are you saying that the entire Old Testament is out? That none of that is technically “God’s Law” anymore?
Me: I wish you’d try and stay more consistent. Are those laws not applicable anymore because they’re in the Old Testament? Or, are they only applicable if they are also reiterated in the New Testament?
Brad: … Yes?
Me: ... ... ...
Brad: Look, it’s simple. You’re making it unnecessarily complicated. The Bible is clear about what is right and wrong, and you’re just choosing to disregard it if it doesn’t fit with your worldview, or if you feel differently.
Me: Except, Bradley, I actually don’t think that’s what’s going on... also, why didn’t you kiss me when I walked in the room today?
Brad: Come again?
Me: In the New Testament, Paul writes, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” That’s not Old Testament stuff. So why haven’t you done that? Are you choosing your own preference over God’s?
Brad: That’s... that’s not a Law
Me: Why not?
Brad: That’s just Paul riffing on some local customs.
Me: Brad, can I point out something?
Brad: If I say no, will that matter?
Me: Not in the slightest. Okay, so we started with the premise that you believe that there are Laws of God, as laid out in the Bible, that I am blatantly choosing to disregard or ignore in favor of my own opinions and preferences. But when I tried to understand what for you is “God’s Law” and how you know that it is such, it’s gotten kinda clunky. Some things that appear, on the surface, to clearly be Laws of God as stated in the Bible, you’ve explained away as out-dated and not for today, or as culturally bound and no longer applicable.
Brad: What’s your point?
Me: My point is, if it’s not as clear and simple as opening a book and reading the words on a page, then, no offense to you, I’m sure you’re a great guy, but why the hell should I trust your reading of these texts? What makes your interpretation of them, your understanding of how and when and to whom they apply, any better than anyone else’s?
Brad: Look, I’m just reading the Bible...
Me: No, stop, you’re not. Stop saying that. You’re not “just reading the Bible,” we’ve already established that you have certain principles and interpretive guidelines that you apply. Which is fine, I’m not disputing that. As I said in our conversation last week, I share many of the same tools for this stuff as you do. What I’m disputing is this notion that you know, without a doubt, what “God’s Laws” are. And, furthermore, you are so certain of them that you can also accuse me of ignoring them.
Brad: But you are.
Me: Ugh. Yes, I hear you. I understand that for you, it appears as though I’m disregarding God’s laws in favor of my own feelings. But you need to hear me when I say, that’s not what I’m doing. That’s not how I see it.
Brad: Of course it’s not, you’re deluding yourself..
Me: No, Brad, shut up for a moment and listen. When I say “that’s not how I see it,” I’m not just appealing to some relative, post-modern mumbo jumbo, where every point of view is just a view from a different point. Although there is some truth to that, yes. But that’s not what I’m getting at. What I’m getting at is, it’s freaking absurd for you to insist that I (or others like me) approach something like a Law from God and go, “meh, pass.” That’s what you’re suggesting--nay, insisting--that I’m doing. That I’m, like, consciously standing before something that is True (meaning, it’s of and from God), and something that is indicative of how human beings ought function in the world (what we might call a Law), and I’m just giving it the middle finger. I cannot tell you how freaking ludicrous that is.
Brad: Well, but...
Me: No, I’m not done. If you and I have different beliefs about something, different ideas about what the Bible says or what the words of the Bible mean, the reason for that isn’t because we’re both staring at the sun and you’re calling it “sun” but I’m like, “pfff, that’s the moon.” But that’s what you imply with your comments about me “choosing my own ideas over God’s Laws.” If there is something that I’ve come to conclude is not only of Divine Origin, meaning it likely is as True as we can know, and if that thing is what we might call a Law, then I’m going to do my damndest to abide by it. To submit to it. To grant it authority in my life. The fact that you and I disagree on so many things is not because one of us honors and acknowledges God’s Law and the other doesn’t, it’s because we’ve come to different conclusions about what God’s laws are.
Brad: But the Bible...
Me: But the Bible, what, Brad? As we’ve already established in both our conversations, the Bible requires that we interpret it. That we do more than just read the plain words on the page. As I told you, I also read and try to understand the Bible. And the fact that I have come to different conclusions than you is simply that, a situation in which two people land in two different places. It is not, as you say, illustrative of me choosing my own feelings and opinions over and against God’s laws.
Brad: ... ... ...
Me: When you wear that shirt, or mow the lawn on Saturday, I don’t creep on your Instagram and accuse you of ignoring plain Biblical facts. I assume, and I trust, that you have concluded that such verses, such commandments, are not in the category of “God’s Laws.” Why you can’t extend me the same courtesy is beyond me.
Brad: Yeah, I hear you. I guess I do do that, huh? I have all sorts of really good reasons why I “disregard” some of the commands of the Bible, and none of them are because I just don’t care what God has to say. They all come from a place of truly trying to understand what I’m reading and how it applies today. I guess... I guess I don’t know why I struggle to trust that you’re doing the same thing.
Me: It’s okay, man. I get it. I used to struggle with that, too. Your religious heritage has taught you that there is only one true way to read and understand the Bible, and lucky for you, they figured it out. So you’ve been told all your life that how you read and understand the Bible is the right way, and everyone else is wrong. That’s a really stressful way to go through the world, huh?
Brad: Yeah, kinda.
Me: It makes you do things like, leave ignorant sounding comments on people’s YouTube and Instagram... or, just Liking the comments of those that do.
Brad: Yeah, I’m sorry.
Me: It’s all good, seriously. Like I said, I get it. How about this… how about, moving forward, if you find yourself feeling or thinking, “Ugh, there’s Colby (or whomever) just ignoring God’s Laws, ignoring Biblical fact, and choosing their own feelings,” maybe next time you notice that impulse you can choose to get curious about it. Feel free to ask me, or others, why we landed on the belief we did? How it is we came to that conclusion? Start with openness and curiosity, instead of judgment and assumptions.
Brad: I suppose I can try.
Me: Sweet! And I will, too. Try. Because this is stuff I’m still working on, too.
Brad: Thanks man.
Me: You bet. And thank you. It was cool of you to come back on. Maybe do it again sometime?
Brad: Maybe... but I might need a minute.
Me: Makes sense. See ya bud.
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