Friday, August 8, 2014

A Precarious Balance

Do you have to take the bible literally to be a Christian? Why don't Christians do more to help the needy? Is helping the needy really all that Jesus wanted from Christians? 

Social media is blowing up lately over the controversy surrounding the Christian band Gungor and their approach to answering such questions. The controversy, however, only highlights an already escalating tension that seems to exist between Christians who strongly emphasize solid biblical theology (what you know and believe about God and the bible) and those who rally for stronger social justice (what you do for those who are hurting).

Lead singer of the now notorious Gungor band, Michael Gungor, himself states "If I'm on the side of a road bleeding, I don't care if the priest or the Levite have beautiful 'beliefs' about the poor and the hurting … Give me the Samaritan. The heretic. The outsider who may have the 'wrong' 'beliefs' in words and concepts but actually lives out the right beliefs by stopping and helping me. That's the kind of belief I'm interested in at this point." His words would give us the impression that your ability to know and articulate what you believe about God is of little importance. That only helping people is important. Loving your neighbor is all that truly matters.

And on the other side of the coin you see churches of people, perfectly able to spout lines of doctrine and Scripture, who never step outside of their own front doors to help the suffering or needy. And this gives the impression that only theology matters, and loving your neighbor is far less important. So which is it? What matters most and what pleases God most?

I guess, rather than looking to any fallible person to answer the question, I try to make a habit of looking to Jesus himself when deciding on such pertinent issues. What type of example did He give us to follow when it comes to Scripture, compassion, giving, living and teaching?

One of the first things that comes to mind when considering His example, is John 6 where He feeds five thousand men from just five small loaves of bread and two fish. The first part of this event, suggests what Jesus would have us do for those who are needy. Obviously, He fed them! The myriad lessons that flow from this story on generosity and on giving when you have little are more than I can mention here. But it is important, I think, that Jesus did not sit in a huddle with His disciples and feed only them, but made a way for all the hungry there to eat. However, if you keep reading this chapter in John, it is apparent that Jesus isn't done talking about bread.

In passages 25-59, the disciples have grown hungry again and are looking for Jesus. This time, Jesus rebukes them saying, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” When the disciples are confused by this, Jesus goes on to explain that He is the bread of life, the Messiah, and that He alone can give them eternal life.

So what does the last part of this chapter suggest about Jesus' thoughts about theology? Does it matter if we can articulate who God is and what He has done? I think it's an obvious "yes" and a closer examination of the passage shows that He does a lot more articulating truth and theology than I have summarized here. 

So what does this mean about what is most important? Jesus did feed the five thousand first. Not to mention, there are piles of other references about helping the poor, needy and widows throughout all of Scripture. So there is really no excuse for sitting in a pew week after week, staying comfortable and keeping your wallet to yourself. That's a kind of a given here.

But when it comes to what is most important, Jesus speaks of himself again in verse 58,59 saying "This (I) is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” This suggests to me that the bread (the serving, the giving, the helping) though important, is not enough.  Jesus placed a huge significance on defining the gospel to the people that looked to Him. In this passage alone, He speaks of His deity, His divinity, His power and His love...all very theological, doctrinal concepts (not to mention beautiful and personal, too). He does not use the fact that helping isn't enough as an excuse not to help, but He uses the physical, material meeting of needs as a means of introducing the truth to the world.

So, what's of worth in the eyes of God when it comes to helping the needy, hurting, broken world? Both! Both solid biblical theology and great gestures of compassion are essential. But, in Jesus' example, neither can exist without the other. The "heretic with the wrong beliefs" who helps the person bleeding on the side of the road but can't tell them where to find the Bread of Life, falls short of his call, as does the man who preaches gems of wisdom but walks away. I pray that Jesus would empower us together to be the hands, feet, mouth and heart of God that can help the broken and hungry far beyond just a plate of macaroni & cheese today, to a much greater, eternal feast with Him someday.