“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was reading comments on a friend’s Facebook page on something she had written about the Bible.
After a number of statements from one critic in particular–each comment shallow and several of them insulting–she patiently responded with kindness and reason.
But nothing worked on that guy.
When one is determined not to believe, no amount of truth or reason or logic can penetrate the protective armor of alibis, arguments, excuses, and slander in which he clothes himself.
What was the “contradiction” he had found in Scripture?
He said, “In one place the Bible says an eye for an eye and another place it says turn the other cheek. What do you say about such a contradiction?”
I found myself wondering if this guy was serious. My 13-year-old neighbor could answer that.
Just so easily does this guy dismiss the living God, the Creator of the Universe.
Even if the Lord had such a fellow on His team, He wouldn’t have much. HIs ignorance is shallow and doubtless his faith would be just as worthless.
Before commenting on the subject of contradictions in the Word, let me respond to that guy, just in case any reader needs to know how those two scriptures line up.
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” was given to Israel as a principle for assessing punishment for crimes (Leviticus 24:20). This formula was light-years more lenient and merciful than the standard used in pagan countries–and to this day, in some backward nations–that went like this: a life for an eye; a limb for a tooth.
God told Israel to make the punishment fit the crime. Whatever the bad guy did to his victim, do that to him. Nothing could be fairer. (I’m tempted to detour into a rant about how our, ahem, modern system of justice has aided and abetted wrong-doing. We give perpetrators one get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s called “first time offender.” In truth, the first time someone crosses the line they should experience the full weight of the force of law. Instead, we slap their wrists and send them home with a tut-tut. Not real smart.)
Our Lord Jesus addressed the two standards raised by our little critic in Matthew 5:38-39. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, etc.” So, instead of this critic having made a great discovery about the standards the Bible gives, He never noticed that Jesus answered him 2,000 years ago.
But then, expecting a willfully ignorant person to have read his Bible is asking a little much.
The “turn the other cheek” principle is not for everyone. Nor was it a standard for a court of law. In the fullest explanation of this principle, before issuing it, Jesus began with, “I say to you who hear….” (Luke 6:27). Not everyone hears spiritual things. Not everyone “gets” it. “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God” (I Corinthians 2:14).
Okay. Enough of that. Anyone finding a contradiction in those two statements deserves the appellation which Proverbs gives to the willfully ignorant. (I refer readers to statements such as Proverbs 12:1 “stupid”, 12:15 “fool”, and 13:1 “scoffer”. I didn’t say it. God did.)
A few thoughts about contradictions in the Christian life or the Bible itself….
1. Everyone says and does contradictory things. It’s real life.
I loved my parents dearly. But they had contradictions in their lives.
I’m contradictory. I preach about caring for the body as God’s Temple, and yet I eat more ice cream than is wise. I urge people to spend time in God’s Word daily, and yet I’m lazy some days and do not open the Bible.
2. Scientists often come upon contradictions in their studies.
When astronomers discover a planet or a star not conforming to the known laws, they do not automatically dismiss it. They do not say, “Well, I’ve found a contradiction in the physical laws, so I’m out of here. Look for me at the unemployment office.”
Instead, they wisely decide “something is going on here which we do not understand” and “there is much more to the universe than what we know.” They keep digging, because they know they’re about to learn something valuable. It’s how great discoveries are made.
3. God does not hesitate in placing before His children two seemingly opposite commands.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” and “deny yourself.” “Let your light shine before men” and “do not do your works before men to be seen of them.” “For God so loved the world” and “love not the world nor the things in it.”
We could do this all day.
Jesus said, “He that loses his life shall find it.” He came into the world, He said, so that “those who see may be made blind.” He told the Pharisees that if they were blind, they would have no sin. “But now you say, ‘we see,’ therefore your sin remains.”
Only the willfully ignorant, those who think a “hard saying” in the Word (see John 6:60) automatically means God is contradicting Himself, packs up and leaves when they encounter such a paradoxical statement.
4. God wants us to think!!
“…upon that law (the Word) does he meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
5. Some Scripture is indeed deep.
If Scripture is the message of the Creator of the Universe–I mean, the One responsible for the galaxies we now observe in the far reaches of Hubble/Webb’s sights and everything else!–doesn’t it make sense some of it might be profound and even hard to understand?
Where did the idea arise that if my tiny little mind finds an unsolvable conflict in Scripture then God’s existence is automatically disproved? What kind of nitwits are we to believe that, and to walk away from the living God for such a flimsy reason.
No wonder those internet scams continue. No wonder the cults still pack ’em in.
People are lazy and want everything made easy. And that is not going to happen.
Scripture says the “cowardly” and “timid” will lead the sad parade into hell (see Revelation 21:8). For my money, another group right in there with them will be the lazy, the unthinking. The willfully ignorant.
Proverbs calls them the fools.
Here is the full Ralph Waldo Emerson quote with which we began…
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do…. Is it so bad then to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton…. To be great is to be misunderstood.
After some abandoned Jesus because of His “hard sayings” (John 6:60), the Lord asked the disciples, “Well, how about you? Will you go away too?”
Simon Peter, gifted with the ability to say the wrong thing, this time got one right. “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).
We do not follow Jesus and we do not believe the Bible because doing so is easy. We believe God’s word and follow the Lord Jesus because this is the only way. “Neither is there salvation in any other.” (Acts 4:12).
It’s not like we were given choices. It’s truth or consequences.