I have an odd question today. Can you be better than the Bible? I suppose most Christians would summarily respond "no, of course not." Yet often people's lives and theology seem to suggest that they secretly think yes, they can. What is it with Christians trying to sanitize everything and pretty it up and make it nice? The Bible isn't always nice. In Galatians Paul suggests that the circumcision advocates go all the way and chop off a certain key body part. Wow. And as a popular Facebook meme suggests, when asked, "What would Jesus do?" — throwing over tables is a viable option.
Here's the thing. The Bible is not always neat and pretty and tied up with a bow. Sometimes daughter-in-laws seduce father-in-laws. Prostitutes make it into the lineage of Jesus. Men who are said to be after God's own heart also commit adultery and murder. Prophets eat food cooked over human dung. Then there's the Song of Solomon, a rather suggestive book that I sometimes wonder if Christian parents even allow their kids to read.
I recently saw a Facebook post by a fellow author asking someone to explain to her why Ruth lay down at Boaz's feet. She said this seemed rather risky and risqué, and of course twenty or so comments tried to explain why it wasn't. Eventually I couldn't take it any longer and replied, "I think it was risky and risqué, and I think God might have a message for us in that."
If the Bible is indeed (as we claim we believe) God's inspired Word to mankind, then we need to accept all of it, even when it's messy. And if it is indeed God's inspired Word, we can't be "better" than the behavior recommended in it. Of course I'm not talking about the bad behavior of specific individuals, but rather the Bible's prescribed behavior, particularly in the New Testament. When we try to be better, nicer, more pure, and more sanitized than the Bible itself, what we actually are is out of balance.
For example, while certain aspects of life like drinking alcohol or dancing can in some cases lead to sinful behavior, the Bible never says that either of these are sinful. Still, some denominations within Christianity try to turn them into sins. If someone chooses not to drink alcohol, that can be a wise decision, but if they judge others and treat it like a sin, they're out of balance. When they contrive elaborate theologies of why the wine Jesus turned the water into wasn't really wine, they're out of balance. And when you're out of balance, another word for that is just plain WRONG!
Paul says it is for freedom we've been made free. Satan wants us bound, God wants us to feel free to enjoy life so long as we follow his Spirit and stay within certain general guidelines. Getting drunk is a sin. Drinking wine is allowed if you can do it with self-control. Dancing with an intentional goal of seducing anyone other than your own spouse would seem to fall outside of those prescribed guidelines (although I don't think it's anyone's job to judge the motives of another person's heart), but dancing as worship is encouraged, and dancing to enjoy life and music and community is fine.
Or let's take kissing before marriage. The Bible never says it's wrong, yet some Christians today treat it like a sin, or a lack of purity. The Bible DOES say not to have sex outside of marriage, and yes, excessive and indiscriminate kissing could lead one down a wrong path. But that doesn't make kissing before marriage a sin.
You can't just go around making up sins for the sake of expediency! The same goes for dating. The Bible never mentions the system we call courtship or the system we call dating.
Adult Christians should feel free to make those sorts of choices for themselves and not be judged by other Christians. Again, remember that when we try to be better than the Bible, something is dangerously off course.
Quite frankly, based on my own reading of several books on courtship, I think some of the more extreme advocates have indeed steered off course. When young men and women are taught to feel impure every time their bodies experience natural, God-ordained sensations, they are being set up for problems later on in their marriages. How are they supposed to magically retrain their minds in one brief ceremony to enjoy what has been causing them perpetual guilt and turmoil for years? Guilt and turmoil that the Bible doesn't require.
Feelings aren't sin. Physical sensations aren't sin. What we do with those feelings and sensations determine our sinfulness or righteousness. If we choose to revel in them and fantasize over them, or worse yet to dive into them, that's very different than experiencing them and then making good decisions concerning them. It's very different than saying, "Dear Father God, I'm having these feelings and don't know what to do with them. Please guide me through this situation."
And even when we make poor decisions, God is there to forgive and restore us.
As an author who has written young adult fiction, I realize some of my readers might be teens, and so I remind you that children are instructed by the Bible to obey their parents. That message is clear. And adult children must still show their parents honor and respect, but they must also make their own decisions before God and take responsibility for their own choices.
On the flip side, to parents and church leaders I would say this. I grew up in the church, and trust me, kids who grow up in the church have excellent "b.s." detectors. They know when the adults in their lives are giving them rules that go beyond the Bible. And all that serves to do is undermine their credibility. When people try to make rock music, black fingernails, blue hair, and the like into "sin," they risk pushing others away from the true gospel message of freedom, grace, and redemption.
So here's what it all comes back to. Can you be better than the Bible? No. Not if you believe it's truly God's Holy Word, as we Christians claim to believe. So let's get real, authentic, even a little vulnerable. Let's stop living nice, safe, clean, pretty lives and embrace the more challenging existence of walking by the Spirit of God. Let's present a version of Christianity to the world that's not based on rules and limits, but on the immeasurable gift of God.
We can't be better than the Bible, we can only be out of balance. And out of balance is just plain wrong.