I know I’m at least week late on this, but that’s alright. I don’t want to weigh on any of the debates. I want to talk about the debating. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way debating that has been going on in our nation and I want to comment on how debating happens, especially among fellow believers.
While reading What We Talk About When We Talk About God, I was struck by his chapter on the paradox of talking about God. The paradox of God is essentially the fact that we cannot fully know him or describe him and yet we must. It’s hard to live in this paradox. We want answers to our questions. Bell writes, “Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt.” Many of us want to eliminate doubt. We want it all spelled out for us so that we know what is right and what is wrong. This desire for right and wrong plays greatly into debates that involve theology and morality and it’s this desire that I’ve been thinking about.
People want answers. People were raised to have specific answers for specific questions. Some people, for various reasons, change their mind and choose to believe something else. Whatever we believe, the point is this: we are all trying to do our best to come up with the right answers. When you put the right answers in the context in religion, then the right answers become a big deal. The right answers, for many people, have eternal consequences. Some people are fearful of having the wrong answers and others are concerned that everyone else has the wrong answer.
For that reason, I think that it is important for us to enter debates with grace. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, you need to be graceful. When discussing matters of faith or morality, people have taken that side because they genuinely think that it is right and they are arguing that side and often it’s because they believe it potentially has eternal importance. When we argue over what religion is right, hopefully at some level it’s because there is genuine concern for the other persons eternal destination. The same can go with what is or is not sinful. If I genuinely believe that you are doing something to endanger your eternal salvation, the right thing should be correction.
I know that many are just rude about their beliefs, and that’s just wrong. I think that those people need to be graceful as well. The point is, have grace when you debate. I think we need to understand that part of the reason for the debate is a genuine concern over you life and salvation. If someone thinks that you’re wrong and your life is in danger, then be grateful for their concern and try to debate kindly with them.
Most of us are just people trying to do our best. If we didn't genuinely think our beliefs were right, then why would we hold them? Be gracious, listen, and disagree in love.
Here are a couple of things that I would recommend that relate to this topic:
Video response from Penn Jillette after being given a Bible (I know it’s an old video, but he has good things to say).
Blog from Donald Miller about Religious Legalism. It’s not the same as what I’ve written here, but it certainly speaks to the same issue.