Written By Lim Chien Chong
Chien Chong joined Singapore Youth For Christ (SYFC) full-time in 1998 after a six-year teaching career in a local junior college. In 2005, he became SYFC’s National Director. He currently serves in the pulpit and Bible class ministry in church, and also preaches, trains, and teaches in different churches and youth groups in Singapore. He has been married for 15 years and has two young lovely boys, Joshua (11-years-old) and Elijah (8-years-old).
Recently, a Christian friend of mine shared that she was going through a very rough patch in her life. Why would God, described in the Bible as the God of love, allow her to go through all that? she asked. What added to her disappointment was that God did not answer her prayers. The God of the Bible didn’t seem to match up to her expectations.
Another Christian friend told me he was in a relationship with someone; it was a relationship which the Bible clearly spoke against. Both of them were truly in love with one another and the relationship meant a lot to him. To him, God was unreasonable in the way He spelt out His expectations in the Bible, especially in terms of whom believers can have a close relationship with.
These are just two of the many others I know who struggle with what the Bible says. For these two friends of mine, it is especially tough because the disagreement is not just about a conflict of ideas; it involves a clash of expectations, interests and lifestyles.
What do we do when we don’t agree with the Bible? To answer this question for myself, I’ve learned to first review the basic assumptions and convictions I have about myself and God respectively.
Assumption #1: My ideas and feelings cannot be wrong
Disagreements (of any sort) between individuals occur when both sides are certain that they are right. I find it hard to accept things that are different from what I have learned from young to be true. This is especially so when I am very certain about my views and convicted about how I feel.
Naturally, when there is a conflict between what the Bible says and how I feel, what I think and what I want, my most instinctive reaction is to say that the Bible cannot be right.
But if I am honest with myself, I will have to acknowledge that there have been numerous occasions in my life that I have been proven wrong in the way I look at things, the way I feel, and the way I respond. The reality is I can be wrong—even though I may not like to admit it.
I remember the time when my application for medical school was rejected. Unlike some of my friends who wanted to be doctors for personal reasons, I really wanted to “save” lives. So I thought God got it wrong. It has been a humbling journey since, but as I look back on this time in my life, I realize God knew better. Many have affirmed me in my role as a teacher. And as I teach the Word of God and share the gospel of Christ, I am in fact “saving” lives for eternity. I thank God that while I was wrong about myself then, God wasn’t wrong about me.
Assumption #2: I know my Bible well enough
For those of us who have been Christians for many years, we would have heard many sermons and done much reading and studying of the Bible for ourselves. With all this head knowledge, we may come to understand God and life in a certain way.
Inevitably, when God and life do not turn out the way we understand, we struggle. But, if we read our Bible more carefully in its proper contexts, we will realize that we have misread our Bibles and misunderstood the character of God all along.
I used to think that God would answer every prayer I said if I ended it in Jesus’ name. But that is not what John 16:24 meant at all. You can imagine the numerous occasions when I felt disappointed with God for not answering my prayers. But that was because I understood Him wrongly. On hindsight, I realize He must have been the one who was truly disappointed with me instead.
Assumption #3: God must act in a certain way
We expect our close friends to understand and accept us, and we hold certain expectations about how they should act and respond. As such, we become very disappointed when they don’t. So, if God doesn’t act in a certain way according to our expectations, we believe that something must be wrong with Him.
But we cannot look at God in the same way we look at our friends, because He is not a mere human who has to pander to our desires and expectations. He is the great God who rules with absolute authority and wisdom. In Isaiah 40:12-26, we read of how the Israelites had to grapple with some mind-blowing metaphors about the incomparable greatness of God. The reality is, if we can “sort God out” and tell Him what He should do, then He can’t really be God because He is under our control.
Therefore, for myself, here are three foundational pillars that I choose to stand on:
Pillar #1: God defines everything, not I
The most fundamental issue I must address is whether or not I accept the fact that in spite of what I think and how I feel, God—who is perfect in power, love and knowledge—defines what is right and wrong, good and bad, true or false.
I can choose to be proud and stubborn because I think I know better since I have read, seen and experienced a lot. Alternatively, I can be humble and accept the reality that God, being the great God, does work beyond my scheme of things.
When Job was tested, his wife and his friends offered many “reasonable” explanations as to why he had to suffer many afflictions. But God does not work or have to work within our scheme of things. In the climactic end in Job 38:1-40:2, God reminded Job that He is the great God; He knows how to run the universe He created and His wisdom is greater than human wisdom.
I have found that on many occasions, my perception and judgment are limited and biased. There is still much I do not know. In fact, I need to learn, unlearn and sometimes even re-learn some things. Guess what? My children are my teachers when it comes to this aspect. Their seemingly innocent questions like, “How did this come about?”, “Why must it be like that?” and “Why did you say this but do that?” often show me that I don’t know as much and I’m not as loving, wise, patient and fair as I like to think I am. It will be foolish to think that I know better.
Pillar #2: God is God of the Word
There are truths and issues I must accept simply because they are clearly written in the Bible. At first glance, I may not understand or agree with certain truths or instructions. But it does not change the fact that God has written them in the Bible.
My response is not to un-write, erase or gloss over these things; rather, I need to take time and effort to learn and understand them. At times, I may need to simply accept these truths even if they don’t make full sense to me. Maybe we don’t quite understand fully the Trinity or the idea of predestination. Maybe we can’t answer the question of why a good God allows sufferings. Maybe we cannot comprehend why God didn’t answer our prayers. Nonetheless, we can hold on to these questions and wait to see how God will help us work through them along the way. When Habakkuk found God’s ways confusing and sometimes mysterious, God’s answer to him was: “The righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4). So, wait for His deliverance.
Pillar #3: God is God of the world
Instead of focusing on the differences between what the Bible says and what we see, why not take comfort and be encouraged by the many instances of congruence between the Bible and the world? This should not surprise us at all, since the same God who gave us the Word is also the same God who made the world.
One good exercise is to constantly look for and marvel at examples of how God’s character and truths are seen in the world we live in and in the experiences we go through. For example, love, mercy and justice (or for that matter, even choice and consequence) are not just abstract concepts. These are important principles that are being displayed and lived out in our lives and societies. They do demonstrate in some ways (though imperfectly) how God interacts with the world. But God will necessarily differ from and transcend human applications of these principles because, unlike man, He is perfect in all His ways.
So what do I do when I don’t agree with the Bible? I think I am ready to answer the question now.
When I don’t agree with the Bible . . .
- I will re-visit my pre-suppositions, ideas, desires and interests and face the possibility that my ideas of the world, life or even God and my feelings may be incorrect.
- I will re-look what the Bible says in its contexts once again, as I could have misread and misunderstood what it says.
- In areas where I am able to work through the clashes and see my mistakes, I will re-align myself and learn to put away my pride and stubbornness.
- In areas where I still cannot sort it out, I will re-establish my basic trust in this great and awesome God with the anticipation that He will make things clearer in time to come.
These ideas seem rather obvious, don’t they? Yet when we are faced with real issues, they are harder to grasp than they appear. And that is probably why my two friends struggled. While I’m glad that one of my friends is learning to understand and accept that God has a much better and bigger plan for her, my other friend has to now work through extremely difficult issues in the relationship that God has spoken against. My prayer for him is that he can re-align himself back to God in due time.