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Biblical Humility


As I look back on my nearly 20-year teaching career at Pacific Union College, one class stands out as my favorite–Argumentation and Debate. I doubt the students benefited anywhere as much as I did from the experience. Certainly good presentation skills and excellent research were helpful, but the real benefit was, I believe, found elsewhere.

Students debated controversial topics. It isn’t difficult to argue a position you believe in passionately. Problems usually arose in being required to argue both sides of an issue at different times in the quarter. With abortion the topic, one young woman told me from the outset that she could speak to only one side, and had to be excused from arguing for “what was clearly wrong.” That not being an option, I told her she didn’t have to accept the opposing position, just be open to and present its salient points.

When she finished her second debate, I was gratified at her reflections on the experience. She had not changed her opinion she said, but now she would be more humble in her beliefs and more tolerant of those who did not see issues as she did. I couldn’t have asked for more.

I was reminded on a regular basis that is easy to recognize that others see issues “through a glass darkly.” What is, of course, more difficult is to be open to recognizing that our own vision is sometimes clouded as well. Perhaps it was my cursory reading of this week’s lesson, but the author seemed to imply (infer? I can’t ever get those straight) that only those who follow Darwin are guilty of trying to see without the lights turned on.

As I said a few weeks ago, if creation teaches us anything, it’s that God is not simple. He and His creation are complex, often far beyond human understanding. I’m not sure how anyone can read the book of Job and come away thinking they have the privilege of categorically telling anyone “this is the way it is.” it seems that this is God’s point. It’s as if He is saying about the issues raised, “You can’t explain the basics of creation, and you don’t understand the other issues you’ve been discussing very well either.” (I’m not embarrassed to say that I think Job’s three friends make a lot sense at times. But I was surprised not long ago to hear an evangelist quote one of Job’s friends as proof of the evangelist’s point. Really!?)

I am not suggesting that anyone give up positions they believe are founded on the Word of God, just be humble and recognize that we, too, may be seeing through a glass darkly. I remember well an axiom I learned in the Seminary: “Be careful about what you affirm. Be doubly careful about what you deny.”

Listeners used to write rather strong letters to H. M. S. Richards, Sr., founder of the Voice of Prophecy, pointing out errors in his biblical presentations. He would respond by defending his point of view, and often end the letter with the phrase, “But you may be right.” Biblical humility!

While I may not have significant differences with the positions taken by the late Henry Morris, a leader of the creationist movement, this statement of his causes me to blanch: “Evolution’s lie permeates and dominates modern thought in every field. That being the case, it follows inevitably that evolutionary thought is basically responsible for the lethally ominous political developments, and the chaotic moral and social disintegrations that have been accelerating everywhere…. When science and the Bible differ, science has obviously misinterpreted its data.

That last sentence reminds me of the Jesuits’ response to Galileo. Their basic argument was that if the earth was not the center of the universe, the Bible was wrong when it said the sun stopped its course through the sky to give the Israelites an advantage in battle. The Jesuits were defending the Bible against science. If Galileo hadn’t been a boyhood friend of the pope, he likely would have lost his life. People can have strong convictions about the accuracy of the way they interpret the Scriptures.

When we face discrepancies in what we believe and the evidence of science, as Darwin did with the cat playing with the mouse before it kills it, we reconcile our two worlds with “It’s the result of sin.” Even for me, a strong believer in the Bible, that’s a little too easy.

I remember as a child asking where negros came from. I was told that it was a result of sin. “God cursed Noah’s son and made him black,” my Bible teachers pointed out. I’ve since marveled at that conclusion. It seems to me that if you were going to curse someone who was out in the sun most of the day you would make them white.

Whether Ham was made black or white is immaterial to the lesson God was trying to teach him, as well as others, through his experience. Could the same be true for this quarter’s topic? Be careful about what you make black and white, and focus on the lessons God is trying to reveal. After all, you may be right. On the other hand you may be . . . well, you know.

As long as we see through a glass darkly, we should practice biblical humility, and wait for the day when all will be made clear seeing God face to face.

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