I have always been curious about the way in which we Christians can justify our belief systems. What I mean is this: we know what Scripture says, but we pick and choose what we pay attention to. For example, I know very well what Jesus says about divorce – don’t do it, unless someone is unfaithful. I choose to believe that divorce – one of the most painful things you can ever live through, I’ve been told – is not a sin, but a difficult and sad experience. Some churches believe it is a sin – so much so that people who divorce and remarry are excluded from certain parts of the life of the church. I have, with full understanding of what I am doing, chosen to ignore what Jesus said about it. The “why” is for another time.
Many Christians choose to ignore what we have done – in the name of capitalism and jobs – to poison the earth. Many devout people are behaving in very hateful and cold ways towards children who, by no fault of their own, were brought to this country illegally. Lots of people of faith are fighting against providing affordable, sometimes free, healthcare to everyone in America. There are other issues, but let’s just stick with these three.
The Environment is a God thing. Genesis 2 describes, in detail, the metaphor of creation from an environmental point of view. God makes Adam and places him in the Garden to take care of it. Eve is placed there to help. The earliest command is that they and the animals are to eat the vegetation -this seems clear from the end of Genesis 1 – and since the animals (including the serpent) seem to be sentient, they, and we, are not to eat each other (that comes later). Initially, however, the sole purpose for human beings was to care for the environment. When Cain kills Abel, Abel’s blood cries out from the ground! Difficulty in farming the earth becomes part of Cain’s punishment.
Welcoming the Alien/Immigrant is a God thing. The Sabbath was created so that everyone – including animals, slaves, and aliens – could have a day off. Leviticus 19 farmers that are not to strip the vineyard bare or reap the entire field. Some is to be left for the poor and the alien, so they have something to eat too. When Abram and Sarai begin their journey in search for the promised land, they go to Egypt and live there as aliens. The central theme of the Exodus is that the people of Israel were aliens once. Jeremiah tells those who might stray from God that if they are just, if they do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, and if they don’t shed innocent blood or worship strange gods, then God will dwell with them.
Healthcare is a God thing. Disease and corruption have always been part of human existence, yet one of the things Jesus spent the most time doing was healing people of illness. When He sends his disciples out in pairs (Matthew 10), He tells them to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons. Helping people feel healthy in body, mind, and spirit took up a lot of Jesus’ time, and although it exhausted Him, He kept on doing it. This is, He tells the disciples, what He came to do (Mark 1) – cure illness and prepare people for the Kingdom of God.
In spite of all of this, Christians are some of the most vocal opponents to any initiatives to heal the earth, help the immigrant, and provide health to those who are mentally or physically ill. In spite of the teachings of Jesus, these Christians choose to ignore His words and focus on words of punishment and retribution, often from the Old Testament. We all pick and choose what parts of the Bible we will follow – and Jesus knew we would! He and Paul are pretty clear about our inability to follow every rule. This is why we have grace.
The difference is this – I admit I pick and choose, but not everyone does. I admit that the Bible has errors, but the inspiration behind it is meaningful and important in guiding my life. I admit that we are sometimes left to our own interpretation, and my attempt is to always interpret on the side of God, not human desire or want. If our decisions are not based on the God Thing, we need to re-evaluate who we are and what we believe – or God’s thing might be to judge us unworthy. Peace!
Steve Ohnsman has been the pastor of Calvary United Church of Christ since 1999. He has a BA in Religion & Philosophy from Wilmington College (OH), and MDiv from Drew Theological Seminary (NJ), a DMin from United Theological Seminary (OH), and a PhD from Alvernia University (PA).