Trying to tame our Bible heroes only blinds us to the wild ways of God.
By Chris Tiegreen
They were a delightful older couple in their 80s, the kind every church would love to have for members. They'd spent most of their lives faithfully following and obeying God, and we learned a lot from their wisdom and experience. We all wanted to grow old as gracefully as they had.
That changed one Sunday, when, during a time of sharing, they mentioned how they were waiting to conceive the child God had promised them. We thought they were kidding at first, but it became clear that they genuinely expected to become first-time parents—not as spiritual mentors or through adoption, but as real biological parents.
It didn't take long for the charming couple to be seen as a senile couple. Some tried to help by referring them to a good counselor, but they couldn't be persuaded. They simply smiled, assuring us that they'd heard from God and their faith wasn't dependent on visible circumstances.
You probably recognize which real-life couple from history did, in fact, hold on to such faith in something so preposterous—something just as strange and unlikely during their time as it would be in 2009. Can you imagine encountering people like Abraham and Sarah today? We would try to talk them out of their bizarre fantasy, plead with them to get psychiatric help, or maybe just chuckle to ourselves and let them live in their harmless little dream world. The one thing we would not do? Tell them what great faith they have.
The truth is that if we weren't reading about these heroes of faith in our Bibles with thousands of years between us and them, we might very well write off their faith. Which means that, in reality, we'd be opposing something God was actually doing.
Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians have developed a theology that would shun some of Scripture's greatest examples of faith. We hold on to "biblical" ideologies that would compel us to decide that these people who obeyed God were actually "deceived" instead. Think, for example, how we would react to a young man who says the Lord told him to marry a prostitute in order to illustrate God's love (Hosea). Or what we'd say of a man who believes that God told him to sacrifice his son (Abraham), or of a prophet who lay on his side in the town square every day for over a year (Ezekiel). It's amazing to consider how the Spirit's ways in the Bible would look to us today: they might appear offensive, as with a hungry warrior who, against the law, takes holy bread (David), or they might appear weird, like the strange actions of the prophets or even Jeremiah's depressed personality. Far too many churches would fail to welcome these people today.
What if, while your pastor was preaching, a woman who clearly had been walking the street all night ran up to him at the pulpit, threw her arms around him, and said loudly, "Thank you so much for all you've done for me!" I'm pretty sure that if the pastor didn't push her away and call some of the ladies of the church to deal with her, he would be criticized very harshly. Yet that's exactly the sort of situation Jesus found Himself in, and He made no attempt to distance Himself from such unsavory characters—even when the religious establishment condemned Him. He didn't seem worried about His reputation or about being judged as less than socially and morally acceptable.
I think we'd actually have had lots of counsel for Jesus: "Lord, You need to be wise. People are calling You a glutton and a drunkard in public. You create conflict everywhere You go. You say things that go against our clear understanding of God's revealed Word. You need to be blameless in the world's eyes—otherwise, You won't have much of a testimony, and God's kingdom will be hindered because of You." Most of our advice would be extracted from solid "biblical" principles. But what if our zeal for the details of Scripture, like the fanaticism of the religious leaders in Jesus' day, causes us to miss the big picture of what God is truly doing? Worse, might we be unintentionally opposing His work?
Discernment is vital; the Bible does tell us not to be carried away by every wind of doctrine and to guard ourselves from falsehood. But what if our discernment is based on the wrong criteria? That can happen when a vibrant relationship with God turns into just a moral religion about God—when our standards no longer are the result of living in His presence. As Jesus said, the Spirit moves where He wishes (John 3:8); and if we aren't in tune with His ways, we'll miss Him.
The Wild Ways of God
We need to ask ourselves if we're really giving God room to work in His way—no matter how unusual or unexpected. His nature never changes—we can count on that—but His methods are as varied as the diverse world He created. It's important for us to draw a distinction between false doctrines (which we rightly reject) and "ungodly" methods (which may not be ungodly at all). Often, when God speaks to us, we pull out our Bibles to find support for what He's saying, but when He speaks to others, we use the Bible to pick apart their beliefs and experiences. We may call that "discernment," but in many cases, it's really hyper-spiritual judgment.
It's the kind of attitude that would have rejected the faith of our biblical heroes—or even Jesus Himself. On one hand, we laud them for their risk-taking, stubborn persistence, and courage to listen to God over popular opinion. Yet when people in our church exhibit such characteristics, we try to reform them.
Why? We often have false expectations about what it means to be godly, which usually translates into "conventional" and "respectable." We take scriptural truth, baptize it in the waters of our culture, and present it to each other and the world as mature discipleship. Have we 21st-century Christians developed a subculture with standards so narrow that not even Jesus fits them? Certainly, many of the Spirit-inspired prophets and apostles wouldn't measure up. Perhaps our self-made versions of what constitutes "correct" discipleship often pushes out of the church those who embrace a more radical faith than we're comfortable with.
The bottom line is that we close our hearts to God when we think we understand Him already. Once we've learned a certain truth, we often make ourselves deaf to future voices that may complicate the matter—even when that voice is God's. But do we really want the Lion of Judah to be tame when that's the farthest thing from the truth?
That He isn't tame can be unsettling, but it's also comforting. We don't have to figure out how to navigate every unpredictable turn; it's enough to ask Him to take us wherever He wants us to go. Then, as we trust Him and hang on, He stretches us, startles us, and fits us for a kingdom that's beyond anything we can ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). And when our hearts are willing to expand—even when it's uncomfortable—we'll be better able to enjoy His kingdom right here, right now.
Chris Tiegreen is the author of Fixing Abraham: How Taming Our Bible Heroes Blinds Us to the Wild Ways of God.