24 July 2023 |
Dear Aunt Sevvy,
Why was God not clearer on topics like hell fire, state of the dead, and the Sabbath? I was raised thinking that if other Christians would simply study their Bibles, they would inevitably come to our conclusions.
The trouble is, Bible texts are confusing and even contradictory at times. Couldn’t God have inspired writers with greater clarity, thus making us more certain, and our evangelism less complicated?
Signed, Sometimes Confused
What an excellent question!
Aunty believes that the Bible is a human account of people interacting with their Creator, with the clearest expression of who God is seen in Jesus Christ.
But human beings want precise answers to their present concerns. What happens after I die? When will Jesus return? Does God answer prayer? What is the status of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit?
This last serves as a good example. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are never brought together as an official “Trinity” in the Bible; the Trinity was voted into being almost 300 years later by a church council held in Nicaea! They may have been right, but the result isn’t as incontrovertibly biblical as most Christians think it is.
Which shows that so many of our questions aren’t answered as clearly as we’d like in the Bible. So we infer answers from Bible texts, some of which weren’t meant to answer such questions. (Why do we quote Psalms to answer technical theological questions, for example, since they were meant to be hymns, not treatises?)
This is not just a problem of modern Christians. The Jewish scholars throughout the Old Testament era and on into the New did this, the most famous being the rabbi-turned-Christian Paul. Later, after the Protestant Reformation, churches developed thousands of novel doctrines, some based on questionable texts and out-of-context information. They still follow us around today.
A close-to-home example: Aunty has heard Adventist scholars say that Daniel and Revelation are mysteries to be decoded—with mathematics, if necessary. They have crafted needlessly complicated prophecies—such as the 1260 days—that find their fulfillment in an obscure date and meaningless event.
Aunty does not subscribe to the Bible-as-mystery theory. Aunty likes a hermeneutic voiced by Mark Twain: “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.”
Aunty believes (this is a personal belief, and of course you needn’t agree) that much of our theology is a great complication of what was meant to be a very simple message, expressed best in the gospels: love God, try to become better people, be as kind to one another as you possibly can, and trust that God loves and cares for you and has power over death.
That, Aunty thinks, are the main things you need to know, and anything beyond that is likely to be speculation.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—without identifying the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.