In the sports world over the last month, one of the biggest stories in the world of sports was NBA center Jason Collins coming out of the closet and revealing that he is gay. As I reflect on his revelation, and some of the criticism he received, I am reminded of the beginning of the Adventist Church. The SDA Church began as an outgrowth of what is now called The Great Disappointment. In 1844, a movement formed in response to the prophetic preaching of William Miller. Miller believed that Jesus would return on October 22 of that year. People were so convinced of Miller’s prophecy that they sold all they had and waited for the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Obviously they were wrong. Many people rejected Christianity because of this colossal blunder. Others delved deeper into the Bible, trying to figure out how they got it so wrong. In the course of this searching, these seekers stumbled onto three truths – the seventh day Sabbath, the spirit of prophecy and the remnant, and what we now call the investigative judgment. The Seventh-day Adventist Church was founded by these people who did not give up, but wrestled with their failure and came to a new and better understanding of God as a result.
When I think of the origins of the Adventist Church I always think of two things. First, the origins of the SDA church affect us even today. Adventists are concerned (too much so, in my opinion) with being right. I believe this is something that has been passed down through our “denominational DNA” from our progenitors. Our forebears were overly concerned with being right because they did not want to be embarrassed again as they were in The Great Disappointment. But the second thought is the more important one in relation to the events of this week. The Great Disappointment is a reminder that no matter how much we may think we know what God’s word says, there is a possibility that we could be wrong.
I wish we as Christians were more willing to answer questions with an “I don’t know,” or “I’m not absolutely sure about this, but this is what I believe.” Instead we allow our misplaced idea of faith in God’s word to lead us to unsubstantiated assurance in our finite ability to understand an infinite God. It is this presumption that I believe led Chris Broussard and others to opine on Jason Collins’ Christianity. Despite those opinions and the confidence in which they were expressed, I am fairly sure that none of us knows the mind of God, and I can bet that we were not present for Collins’ prayers. We have no idea what conversations Collins is having with God, and we have no idea what God has said to him about his sexuality. Unfortunately we make assumptions based on what we think we know about the Bible, but what if what we think about homosexuality is incorrect? I am not saying that it is or is not, and that question is not important here. What is important is that we should at least be willing to consider the possibility that we could be wrong.
There are two reasons why it is important to consider the possibility we could be wrong. First, there’s nothing wrong with considering that possibility. I think many of us think that we somehow lack faith if we consider the possibility that there may be more to learn about God, or that we will have to change some of our settled thinking on who God is and what he wants. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we continue in a relationship with God and get to know Him, it is only natural that we will learn “new” truths, and discard “old” ones. This in essence is the second reason why being wrong is a benefit. If we are never wrong about any aspect of our understanding of God, then exactly how are we growing in our relationship with our Lord and Savior?
Finally, if we are willing to accept that we could be wrong, it has the potential to change the way we talk to people about our faith. The cold, unloving statements of pseudo-theology and damnation that we give now would hopefully be replaced with a careful and nuanced explication of what we believe God is saying to us about the subject at hand. That would be more faithful to the truth than what we do now, and it would come across as more honest to those who do not understand Christ as we do.