Friday, September 12, 2014

Sincerely Wrong

Can I admit something?  There are parts of the Bible I don't like.  They make me uncomfortable; sometimes they scare me.  Lot offering his daughters to the people of Sodom instead of sending out his angelic visitors?  I hate that.  God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son to prove his faithfulness?  Even though I understand the story, I still don't like it.  Sapphira dropping dead because of a lie?  That scares me to the bone. 

Recently I read a lesser known story that I don't like.  In 1 Kings 13, after Jeroboam becomes king of the Northern kingdom of Israel, God sent a prophet to Bethel to speak against the king's idolatry. He also told this man of God not to stay and eat in Bethel, but to return to Judah by a different route.  The man of God intended with all his heart to obey.  He turned down a reward by the temporarily repentant king and set out on his way.  However, before he made it out of the area, an old prophet told the man of God that an angel had told him to invite the younger man over to eat.  Believing the lie, the man of God went with old prophet and ate with him.  As a result of his disobedience, a lion killed him when he finally made his way back to Judah.  The lying old prophet was unharmed.

Why don't I like it?  Because the man of God was sincerely trying to obey and was deceived, yet he was still punished.  At first glance, it seems unfair that he should have to pay the consequences of sin when he was trying to do the right thing and believed a lie. 

Like it or not, the man of God made a mistake.  He had word directly from God that told him not to eat in Bethel.  He chose to believe the second hand word from an old prophet (who had stayed in the idolatrous north) rather than the word God had spoken to him.  If he had really thought it out, he would have known that the word of God must trump the word of man, even a prophet, but the lure of a meal before his long journey was just too strong.  He paid for his mistake with his life.

This story scares me even more than the story of Sapphira because it is easier to avoid lying than it is to avoid believing a lie.  Like the man of God, it is easy to believe a lie, either because we want something to be true or we are afraid it is true. 

When I was in high school, I had a gay friend.  How badly I wanted homosexuality to be okay!  In college (a conservative Christian college), I even wrote a paper with the thesis that the Bible doesn't REALLY condemn it.  It's not hard to find people who believe this lie and even use the Bible to support it.  I was really trying hard to convince myself because of my sincere love for my friend. At that time, I was surrounded by people who encouraged me to study the Bible harder, and I did come to the conclusion that God is unequivocal about that particular sin.  But for a year, I tried hard to believe the lie because it was so tempting. 

In all reality, that lie was hard to hold onto, but other, less controversial lies are more insidious.  I've mentioned before that I used to have a very broad view of grace.  To me, grace meant that once you were saved, you could never escape that grace no matter what you did or how long you did it.  That  belief could have been deadly, both for me and the people around me.  Why should I try to bring an erring sister back into the fold if her salvation is secure no matter what she does? 

Sometimes we believe a lie because we are afraid it is true. It can be really easy to fall into sincerely believing in too narrow a view of grace.  As if the Christian life is constantly walking a tightrope that any sin can knock you down from.  How sad it is to live in fear of one unconfessed sin!  I've heard sincere Christians say they fear dying in a car wreck because they are afraid the last thing they say might be a curse word and then they wouldn't be able to go to heaven. I've been there before too, and 1 John 1 really helped me to see the truth of Jesus's blood continually cleansing me from my sins.

If believing a lie is so easy, how can we avoid the trap?  The man of God in our story had word directly from God that he should have believed over everything else.  In the same way, we have the Word of God available to us in the form of the Bible.  His word must be our guide; nothing can supersede it.  Of course, the only way we can know what God says about anything is to be in the Word, studying it and meditating on it and living it.  If we want to avoid believing a tempting lie and paying the consequences, we must know the truth of God's word and follow it to the exclusion of all other things.

While I can't say I enjoyed reading the story of the deceitful prophet, I'm glad I did.  It made me think about my own responsibility to discover the truth of God's desires. I have a renewed desire to follow that truth regardless of what tempting lies are put before me.   


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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