How do I know what is biblical?

Happy Easter Everyone! We had a wonderful weekend celebrating my father’s 80th birthday in Chicago. Grandchildren and great grandchildren flew in to honor a man who has had a life well lived. The best part was a creative memory/photo album my sister and sister-in-law put together of letters we all wrote my dad, sharing a special memory from the past or just how much he meant to us or how he impacted our lives. We all were in tears. My father couldn’t even read it. He said he had to wait until he was alone.

Today I thought I’d share with you an experience I had in one of my travels instead of answering a weekly question. I shared some of these thoughts in a professional blog I wrote but I thought it might be helpful to you as well.

Not too long ago my husband Howard and I were heading to Florida for a much needed vacation. Right after we dragged ourselves through airport security we sat down to reassemble ourselves. Glancing up at the airport information center, we observed a troubling and odd scene going on behind the desk.

“Inappropriate!” “Weird” were the words my husband and I muttered to one another as we watched a uniformed male employee repeatedly stroke a female employee’s face sitting in front of him.

What is he doing?” I asked.

“Is he giving her a facial massage?”my husband queried.

“No. I think he’s putting some sort of cream on her face.” I said.

We continued to stare. “There must be some rules against employees publically touching one another like that,” I said. So taken with this inappropriate display of public affection by these employees I encouraged him to snap a picture with his cell phone. Then as I stood up to leave I saw things from a totally new perspective.

The woman was confined to a wheelchair. Her arms and hands curled tightly at her sides, useless. Her friend and fellow employee was tenderly rubbing moisturizer or makeup in to her parched skin. My heart sank. How quick I was to jump to conclusions and to judge his actions as wrong. How naturally and automatically I made up a story about what I saw when in fact, I did not see clearly at all.

At first glance this man’s behavior appeared unquestionably wrong and inappropriate. It was only when I saw things from a different vantage point did I discern that his actions were actually the opposite. They were loving, kind and gracious.

In the same way, Jesus repeatedly attempted to show the Pharisee’s of his day that everything wasn’t so easily explained in terms of what is they thought was lawful or right and wrong.

For example, Rahab the prostitute was spared by Joshua because she protect the spies from being captured (by lying about which way they went) even though one of the Ten Commandments tells us not to bear false witness (see Joshua 6:25). Jesus did not follow the Jewish law when the woman was caught in adultery as the crowd expected. Instead of sentencing her to death by stoning, he said “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” (Luke 14:3-6)

The Pharisees condemned Jesus as a lawbreaker when he healed on the Sabbath yet he challenged their deeply held beliefs by asking them, “Which one of you wouldn’t rescue a son or an ox on the Sabbath if they had fallen into a deep well?” (Luke 14:3-6). Jesus taught that doing good, helping others, and loving well was more important to God than legalistic adherence to biblical law.

In my weekly blog I’m often asked questions about whether or not something is biblical. In other words, does God approve or disapprove of what I’m about to do? Here are a few recent examples I’ve blogged about.

“Am I disobeying God or dishonoring my mother when I put boundaries around her contact with my children?” Or “Is it biblical for my daughter to get a legal annulment from her new husband because she’s discovered he lied to her about who he really was? Had she known these things before hand, she would not have married him.” Or “Is it lawful for me to separate from an emotionally abusive husband? My church tells me that God hates divorce and I’m not allowed to leave under any circumstances.”

Sometimes when I read these tragic situations with their final question asking me what I think God says is right and what’s wrong I imagine how Jesus must have felt when the Pharisees tried to trap him. Is there only one right biblical answer for every situation?

At times I see Christians use the bible as a rule book to find what God says is permissible and/or unacceptable. But even Jesus had exceptions to his laws and the higher law of love and doing good always triumphed (see Jesus’ teaching on this in Mark 3:1-6). Biblical love never implies that we always do what the other person wants or prefers, but godly love means we actively seek the other person’s long term best interest, which may include setting boundaries, implementing consequences, or initiating separation when those actions are done to help bring a sinful person to their senses and change.

So readers, I want you to know that I struggle with your questions and how to answer them. Sometimes you and I may see things differently, which is good, because there are various perspectives and none of us sees the whole picture all the time.

But we do know that God does see and he knows and he promises us that he will instruct us and guide us in the way we should go, he will counsel us with his eye upon us. (Psalm 32:8) As we struggle and pray, we grow to learn and trust that God will show us what his will for our lives is.

Here are some questions I ask myself when trying to discern “what is God saying” to me about a particular situation.

1. What is the whole counsel of God on this matter, not just one or two verses?

2. What is the context? Not just the biblical context but also the life story context. We can’t just take a single observation and make a judgment upon it. Just as I was very wrong in my initial assessment at the airport about what was truly happening, sometimes we can’t always discern what’s right and what’s wrong. Changing our vantage point might open our eyes to an entirely different perspective.

3. What are the biblical exceptions? When were they permitted, or even sometimes commended? When the woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ head, the disciples judged it to be a waste of a valuable resource. Jesus thought otherwise and through this example, taught us that what seems right or even logical isn’t the only biblical way to make a good decision. Although what she did was extravagant Jesus said she’d always be remembered for her great love (Matthew 26:6-13).

In striving to be Christ-centered in my counseling, I am learning more and more that there is often more than one biblical answer. My job isn’t to judge or decide what’s biblical. Part of my job is to help you, my reader, see your situation from different vantage points, (for example, temporal, eternal, short term, long term), talk about what God might be up to in your particular situation and how to listen to the Holy Spirit so that you are empowered to walk by faith, not by sight.

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