February 7, 2007

A Festival of Inconsistency

2007 1504 page22 cap was at an international fair hosted by the local community college. Diverse groups staffed booths to inform, convert, sell, or in the case of the booth I spent the most time at, feed people. I had just finished an ice-cream bar when I was asked to hand out flyers promoting revival meetings at our church.
As I made my way among the circle of booths on the campus lawn, reactions were mixed. Some gladly took the flyers and listened while others avoided them. But the most interesting person I encountered was a stout gentleman with a long white beard who could have resembled Santa Claus, had he not worn a scowl that would have frightened Medusa. Snatching the flyer, he listened momentarily to my invitation before speaking.
“I believe in the Bible only,” he said as he made his way back around his booth.
“So do we,” I replied.
He looked at me sharply. “That’s what they all say. You know, I went to Catholic school for years; I am a bit of a theologian.”
“I’m a seminary student.”
2007 1504 page22“Oh, well, then you’ve had about as much training as me.” He seemed intrigued by my schooling. “Have you ever read the story of Jeryy . . . uh . . . Jerca . . .um . . . ?”
“Yeah, that one. You know, Hitler wanted only Jews dead; but God wanted everyone destroyed—makes Hitler look good, doesn’t it?” Before I could respond he continued. “I’m agnostic.”
“And you believe in the Bible?” I asked, puzzled. Agnostics believe there isn’t sufficient evidence for proving whether or not God exists.
“Ever heard of the Thomas Jefferson Bible? Well, he read the Old Testament and didn’t like the God he found there. Neither do I. I read only the New Testament.” He kept talking. “You know those words in red, the words of Jesus?”
“Well, those are the only words I live by.” He smiled, proud of himself.
When he gave me a moment to respond I thought carefully. First, he claimed faith in the Bible—a book demonstrating God is active and knowable through Jesus Christ. Then, he claimed agnosticism—a belief stating it’s impossible to know whether God exists, in direct contrast to the Bible. Finally, He claimed the words of Jesus and denied half the Bible, meaning that he did not believe the Bible; but rather styled himself
a Marcionite—someone who rejects the Hebrew Bible and believes the God of the Old Testament was a demiurge. It was about the words of Jesus that I confronted his inconsistencies.
“What happens when the ‘words in red’ quote the Old Testament?” I asked.
His face contorted with anger. “To heck with the Old Testament!” he exclaimed as he stormed off, a man whose claims were destroyed by his inconsistencies. And while it would have felt good to do a victory dance full of self-righteous spinning and pirouettes of piety, I wondered if people who profess Christianity fall into the same trap.
We tell each other “I’ll pray for you,” but how many of us actually do? We claim to follow a loving God and yet how do we respond to those around us, including telemarketers? We bask in the forgiveness that Christ promises us, but do we extend that same forgiveness to those who cut us off, tick us off, and write us off?
Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, said that people who professed faith while He was on earth “honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matt. 15:8). There was no consistency among those spiritual leaders, and it destroyed their witness.
One text that offers help in eliminating our inconsistencies says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God” (2 Tim. 2:15, KJV). This study has to happen two ways. First, make a list of all the claims you make in life and study them to see if they match your behavior. Second, ask a good friend or spouse, “Where do you see me being inconsistent?” Make sure it’s open-ended so they can tell you honestly what they think.
And if there are little festivals of inconsistency—ask for God’s guidance to realign your life. You’ll be a much stronger witness as a result.

Seth Pierce studies at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University. He and his wife, Angela, live with two trouble-making cats in Berrien Springs, Michigan.