Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - What the Bible Says

Most of the Christians I know speak of the Bible having authority. But what they mean by that comes in many shapes and sizes. Literalism with regards to the Bible seems to be more popular today than it was 50 years ago. For example, the number of Christians who say the believe in evolution has shrunk significantly while those who believe the Genesis creation account is historically and scientifically accurate have increased. (The fact that there are two different creation stories with different orders of creation seems to have escaped these folks, but that's a different blog entry.)

What got me thinking about this was today's morning psalm. It rattles off the attributes of those whom God welcomes to the Temple, those whose lives are pleasing to God. The list includes those, "who do not slander with their tongue... who do not lend money at interest." This got me wondering about biblical authority because slandering with the tongue and lending money at interest seem to be pretty popular in our culture.

I certainly don't claim any sort of personal purity here. I've done my share of slandering with the tongue and I've bought investments that amount to lending money at interest. So how is it that I can claim the Bible as an authority?

I think this is a question that more Christians need to take seriously. Saying "God said it. I believe it, and that settles it" is all well and good. But what about God saying not to lend money at interest?

The worst answer to the question of biblical authority seems to be, unfortunately, the most popular answer: to read
only the parts I agree with. I'll quote those verses that support my views and conveniently ignore those that don't. Big problem with this method is I become the ultimate authority, not the Bible.

So how does the Bible have its own authority rather than simply conforming to mine? To go back to tongue slandering and lending at interest, when I slander with my tongue (or computer blog), it's wrong and something I need to apologize for. But when it comes to lending at interest, it depends. How can that be?

I'm reasonably convinced (by the Bible) that God is not capricious, that God does things for good reasons. And when I look at those places where God prohibits lending at interest, they all seem to be about not oppressing the poor. In the ancient world, one where there was rarely a need for private citizens to raise lots of capital, lending at interest was often used to trap the poor in inescapable debt. (The "company store" of the early 20th century often functioned this way.) But in the modern world, money lent at interest is often used to allow someone to start a company which then hires people who would otherwise be unemployed and poor. In that case, lending money at interest helps the poor. So I think that biblical authority on this issue says, "It depends." Some sorts of lending at interest - the sort designed to trap people in debt - are sinful, but other sorts may not be.

The big question is, "Am I truly recognizing the Bible's authority?" I think I am. What do you think?

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