April 6, 2018

Being Right

“You’re wrong; I’m right. The Bible tells me so.”

Bill Knott

The storyteller was obviously flummoxed.

“Who knows the right answer?” he asked with barely concealed exasperation to all the children who sat on the sanctuary stairs and stared out at their parents.

One hand went up cautiously. Eric didn’t usually offer answers during the weekly children’s story, but he felt confident he couldn’t miss with this response.

“Jesus,” Eric said firmly into the microphone the storyteller extended to him.

The preacher grimaced, and clutched the mic with something like a death grip. “No,” he said impatiently. “The answer isn’t ‘Jesus.’”

“Rhoda,” said 5-year-old Amy, who may not have been listening all that closely to the question, but who was still reveling in the story of the biblical girl she had just learned about in Sabbath School—a girl who was right when all the adults were wrong.

“You’re wrong; I’m right. The Bible tells me so.”

“No, it wasn’t Rhoda,” the preacher said. “That’s not what the Bible says. Doesn’t anyone know the right answer?”

When no other child was ultimately willing to brave the likelihood of being pronounced “wrong” from the front of the church, the storyteller delivered the answer he had been looking for.

“Methuselah,” he announced with enthusiastic conviction. “The oldest man who ever lived was Methuselah. He lived to be 969 years old. Can you children imagine living that long?”

By then all the kids were imagining the pleasures of the coloring books and “quiet toys” awaiting them back in their parents’ pews when this weekly interrogation concluded.

“I still think it’s Jesus,” Eric muttered to Jason on the way back to their seats. “The Bible says that He never had a beginning, and that He never has an end.”

And so we learned the importance of being “right”—especially about Bible facts, especially about names and places and events and trees of the Bible that would help your score in the Sabbath afternoon Bible trivia games we played with one eye on the sundown clock.

Being “right”—that satisfying alignment of our personal knowledge with what the authority of the day had determined was the right answer—was one of the highest values of an Adventist upbringing. The highest score always went to the one who had tucked away the greatest number of “right” answers.

“That’s not a Sabbath song,” I would announce triumphantly to my brother when he lapsed into humming “The Ballad of the Alamo” on the way to Sabbath School. Crestfallen, he would stare quietly out the window for the rest of the short ride, for I had clearly bested him—at least until I forgot myself and started a rendition of “Old MacDonald” on the way home.

And if the culture of correctness was only a function of our childishness, or something believers outgrew with time, it wouldn’t be worth highlighting in these lines. But correctness is still the way too many of those who wend their way to church each Sabbath still experience Adventism: “You’re wrong; I’m right. The Bible tells me so.”

None of this should be read as any lessened appreciation for the biblical value of “the truth.” Seeing things clearly—learning how sadly ignorant we are of the glories of the gospel; understanding the character of a Father who declares His essence to be love—these are the hallmarks of biblical religion. But one-upping each other in the name of establishing our greater knowledge is the antithesis of what we call the “faith of Jesus.”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said to Thomas (John 14:6)*—pointing us to His definition of being “right”—a life-giving journey that deepens our personal friendship with Him. He understands—as only Jesus can—how “wrong” information is the usual result of inadequate relationship, how tightly we cling to partial information when we think that the final test is all about correctness. On this journey the Lord has enough time to work out the errors we have clung to, and the trivia we thought important. In the end, says the disciple who knew Jesus very well, the saved are those who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Rev 14:4).

So here’s to Eric, wherever he may be. I think he got it right.

* Bible texts are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.