Remember the thing about innies and outies? Sure you do. It's about whether your belly button protrudes outward, or is indented inward. I suspect every kid has compared with others.
Did you know there's another kind of innie and outie? Unlike belly buttons, this one is important. It's about how you read the Bible, whether you try to draw truth out of the text (outie) or read your own attitudes and beliefs into the text (innie).
Which are you? Outie is better, but innie is more common by far.
Sadly, research shows that Christians who read their Bibles are in a minority. Most do not. Here, however, I am writing to those few who read, but don't let the text speak to them or work on them. The innies of the world.
Here's the situation: We read the Bible and interpret what we read - and we all interpret, even the guys who insist "I just believe what the Bible says." But we very often don't read with an open and teachable mind, letting the Holy Spirit and the text speak to us. We don't seek truth no matter where it may lead.
Rather we come as readers who "understand" the text only as it fits into our preconceived ideas and wishes. Quality, honest reading requires that we be outies: we let the text speak to us, no matter what it says. If we hope to know God and his word, we cannot come as innies, putting our ideas into the text.
Examples? There are many. We can look at the two common ones that most of us take for granted, and are totally unaware of our bias. First, salvation. Then, the "rapture."
What does "saved" mean to you? If you are like a great many folks, being "saved" means "on your way to heaven." Overwhelmingly, the focus is on what happens after death. It's about some distant day, probably too far away to worry about now. This salvation has little to do with real life, lived here today.
Have you noticed that Jesus never taught much about that? Strange oversight, I think. One would think, considering the importance of it all, that God would have made abundantly certain that message was loud and clear.
But he didn't.
So, will Christians "go to heaven"? Is that what's salvation is about? Will other folks?
As I read scripture, it appears that at least some have and more will "go to heaven." Revelation 4 talks about people present with God in heaven, in the dwelling place of God. But is that the permanent destination for believers, or is it a temporary stop-off? Can we expect to spend forever sitting around, singing to Jesus and playing harps? When we think of heaven, are we even thinking of the same thing the writers of scripture had in mind?
For a number of reasons, I think heaven is not and never will be our "home." I think our permanent destination is a renewed, glorified earth, a global "Garden of Eden." But that requires more space than I have here.
The point is that Jesus taught little about anything resembling what we call "salvation." He taught mostly about the kingdom of God. His emphasis was that the kingdom is here, it is now, and we are in it. No white robes and harps some day in the sweet bye and bye. Biblical salvation is about here and now, not only some future time. There's work to be done in the name of Jesus. Now. And it's our place to do it.
This is important because our concept of salvation colors everything else we read in the New Testament, indeed, every aspect of our life. And the result of this belief is a distortion that all but guarantees we will miss God's intent.
And then there's the rapture. According to this teaching, that's the time when Christians are taken out of this world, up to heaven. Libraries of books have been written about this future event There has been much debate - some intense - about whether the rapture will take us out of this nasty world before, during or after the really hard times.
But what if...? What if we're not going anywhere? Or what if any "departure" in our future is for a visit, not a change of address? What if the verses used to support the rapture (and there aren't many of them) are in fact about Jesus coming to this world, not about us leaving it?
First, when reading scripture, it's hard to find anything supporting the idea that God takes his people out of dangerous or difficult situations. The pattern is that he promises to never leave them or forsake them, as they go through hard times. Christians over much of the world know too well what this means.
What if that's what's coming? Hard times, I mean. It's curious that when Americans talk about a coming tribulation when things will be worse than difficult for followers of Jesus, Christians in much of the rest of the world are puzzled. "You mean it gets harder yet?" They are beaten, imprisoned, killed, raped, robbed and more, for the name of Jesus. Now. And it gets worse? Is that possible?
So what's this rapture thing? And who is going to be taken up to avoid what? The fact that there are so many arguments about it indicates that scripture is not clear. But here's a thought:
In his excellent book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright addresses this question, this idea of our going "up" and meeting Jesus in the air, to be taken to wherever it is we go. Here's what he says about it:
The custom at the time Paul wrote to the Galatian church was for the people of a city to leave the city and head down the road in a great celebration to meet a coming important visitor, such as the governor or even the emperor. And when they met him, they would come together, celebrating his arrival and escorting him back into the city.
Never did they go out, meet the guy, and then turn and go back to wherever the VIP came from. He was coming to them, not vice versa.
How would that historical pattern fit with the second coming of Jesus? What if he's coming here, to live among us, not to take us out of the nasty old world. What if the world we so easily write off, is the same world he plans to restore and glorify? You know, the world God pronounced "very good." And he never seems to have changed his mind.
So, the point of this all is that it's important for us to understand the context of scripture, the historical background, and be open for the Word to speak to us, rather than conforming to our own opinions.
Be an outie. Life is way better that way.