If you were going to give someone advise about how to talk about the Bible, what would it be? If someone asked you for guidance about how to discuss their faith, what would you say? What is the most important thing they need to know? What is the key to successful conversation?
I want to suggest that what we believe about our own opinion is most important. Careful here, I didn’t just say that our own opinion is most important. I said what we believe about our opinion is important. Here’s what I mean.
Nobody tries to have wrong or dumb opinions. I don’t, do you? We have all kinds of opinions. The KC Royals will win the pennant this year. Global climate change is real. Learning calculus is a waste of time. All war is immoral. We need cable TV. Some of our opinions are about important topics, some about trivial topics. But we believe, in fact we are quite certain, that our opinion is right. I mean, we spent time thinking about it. We considered the problem from all angles. We gathered facts. We assessed a variety of options. And we believe that we have reached the correct conclusion. Any reasonable person, would surely agree with us. When we are discussing issues of religious belief, we are talking about important things and we want to be correct. These are ideas that matter.
But what if the other person doesn’t agree with us? What if they also assessed a variety of options? What if they considered the problem from all angles? They think they have reached a conclusion that any reasonable person would agree with? Each of us did our best thinking, we both thought long and hard and seriously. And we reached different conclusions. Now what? How do we figure out who is right and who is wrong?
Here’s where what we believe about our opinions is important. The way to begin to work this through is for each of us to believe we both are wrong.
When we are talking about the big complex ideas, God, salvation, sin, justice, love, truth…it’s hard to get them right. I have ample evidence that I can and do on a daily basis, have all sorts of faulty opinions. I get all sorts of things, big and small, wrong and I suspect your experience is the same. So why would I think I would be completely right about my religious beliefs? I am not saying it is totally impossible, but we need to acknowledge that it is difficult. We need to accept the possibility that our ideas, our beliefs will need some refinement or perhaps a complete overhaul. What I am proposing is simply a call for humility and the acceptance of our limitations.
Can anything I ever say really, fully, truly explain God? Or love? Or truth? My best thoughts, my most complete understanding falls far short of reality. And I suspect yours does too. We are finite and limited beings. Perhaps when we disagree, we should start by recognizing the partial and incompete nature of both our beliefs.
On the other hand, I don’t want to suggest that we can know nothing. I don’t want to claim that what we believe doesn’t matter. I don’t want to say that we should not have strong beliefs. What we believe matters, it is important. It requires our best thinking, and our best effort. I have certain beliefs that I am prepared to advocate strenuously for; and you should too.
We should hold our beliefs like we would hold a bird. Birds, as a general rule, don’t like to be held. They try to escape, they try to bite, they try to claw. The beak and claws of a parakeet can hurt, the beak and claws of a bigger bird can injure. Sometimes we need to hold a bird so we can take a good look at it. We need to hold on firmly so I don’t get hurt and so you don’t get hurt.
But you can hold a bird too tightly. They’re built differently than we are. They are a different sort of creature. If you hold them too tightly, they can’t breathe and they die. Holding a bird requires close, careful attention. It takes practice. Hold on too tightly and the bird dies. Hold on too loosely and all you have left is a hand full of feathers.
I’d like to know, what do you think?