Just My Imagination
It’s the fuzzy stuff around the edges that gets us. When we are aware we are facing a text from God’s Word, we tend to tread carefully. We move slowly, break out our exegetical tools, and get to work. The trouble comes when we’re dealing in broad generalities. We take a vague notion grounded in our private wishes, and turn these into convictions. I had a friend in college who was signed up for the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. Two years into the program he wanted out, having adopted a pacifist perspective. I asked him how he came to this conclusion- “I just can’t see Jesus blowing some guy away” was his answer. Now there are some thoughtful, nuanced arguments out there in favor of pacifism. I don’t believe them, but I can respect them. This, however, is some microscopically thin ice.
The question, of course, is not what one can imagine, but what the Bible teaches. And insofar as we are ignorant of what the Bible teaches, our imaginations will prove to be nothing but trouble. Jesus, you’ll remember, told His disciples before sending them out with the gospel, to bring a sword. What though if they didn’t have one? Jesus said sell your cloak and buy one. Jesus gave us Romans 13, reminding us that the state is God’s minister of justice that does not bear the sword in vain. Jesus is not as safe and sweet as we think He is.
This problem, however, is not just from pacifists. We all face the temptation of taking the flimsiest of evidence, and filling it in with our own imaginations. Were I Jesus, this is how I would look at this issue… But we’re not Jesus. Jesus is Jesus. Worse, sometimes we even put words in His mouth. I had another friend in college that aspired to serve as a minister of the gospel. We opened up our Bibles and I showed her how it forbids ladies from serving as elders in the church. She agreed. For a few weeks. After some distance from our “Let’s open the Bible and see what it says” conversation she was back to her old plan. I asked her how that came to be. “RC,” she asked me, “what are we supposed to do when the Holy Spirit calls us to do what the Bible forbids us to do?” Already blessed with deep pastoral reserves I replied, “Tell that holy spirit to go back to hell where he came from.” Her vague, internal, unverifiable promptings were pushing against God’s Holy Word, and she wasn’t sure which should give way.
The Bereans were noble, not because they constructed a wonderful image of Christ in their own minds, but because they returned to the Word, checked by the Word. And we are called to do the same. When a text seems to butt up against one of our convictions, may we deal with the text, rather than seek to trump it with our own wisdom. It may be our conviction is wrong. It may be our understanding of the text is wrong. But it cannot be that something is more right than the text. It alone is the Word of God.