***DISCLAIMER***The following is far from an exhaustive post. Instead, it makes a best effort to answer the question.
Recently, someone asked me if he/she could ever know when to say someone is wrong for believing God wants him/her to do a certain thing. What follows is his question followed by my response. I then give a final word on the matter because I believe something does need to be said about things such as this (thus why I place this article under the “timeout” umbrella rather than the “question” umbrella). It appears people do justify their actions based on something that has happened in Scripture. This may be so because people think the Bible is about them. However, it is not. Furthermore, people must understand the difference between a descriptive text and a prescriptive text. My answer to the question below explains why.
I’m writing a report about uncomfortable Bible passages, including the binding of Isaac. I’ve written myself into a corner. I suggested that even though Isaac had been restored to Abraham, it wouldn’t have been the worst outcome if he’d made the sacrifice. At God’s direct command, it would’ve been holy. I compared it to Job and how our family and friends are all only on loan to us in their current forms. I said all Job’s possessions listed in the beginning were not only restored, but doubled–even though the prologue and epilogue listed the same amount of kids. I suggested that maybe it was written as such for us to put together the pieces and understand that Job’s kids were never fully lost, even though their bodies had died. The kids were doubled, too. Main point: We should obey God even when it’s uncomfortable.
But after reading it over, I can sense the future snarky comment: “Should we then be terrorists?” I’d like to cover that base beforehand, but I do not know how. If someone truly believes God wants them to kill their kid, how do I say they’re wrong when even Abe would’ve? Or how do I say not to trust what they believe is God’s direction, if the direction is to attack a city like in the Old Testament?
One must recognize that God speaks to us one way. Hebrews 1:1-4 reveals this way (NASB):
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
Hebrews’ author notes that God spoke long ago “to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways” (verse 1). However, in these last days, God speaks to us via His Son via the Word of God, the Bible (verse 2; see also John 1:1, 14; Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21). It is important to note that God’s Word does not change (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2). As a result, one can trust it very much.
If someone believes God wants him/her to kill his/her kid, you can say that that person is wrong based on what God’s Word says. God created man in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Genesis 9:6 states, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man His blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.” Exodus 20:13 states, “You shall not murder.” Even the thought of murder is tantamount to the act itself (see Matthew 5:21-22). While not all killing is wrong (see Romans 13:1-7; 1 Samuel 11; Judges 6-7), murder is most definitely wrong. If someone believes God wants him/her to kill his/her kid, it better not be along the lines of murder. Otherwise, it is most certain that that person is not getting that idea from God.
As it pertains to attacking cities, one must once again consult what the Bible says. God speaks to us through the Word of God. There is no command in the New Testament to attack cities. While some cities in the Old Testament did get attacked, one must understand that the Bible is not about us. Instead, it is about Jesus (John 5:39-45). Just because cities got attacked in the Old Testament does not mean it is ok for a believer to attack another city. Old Testament texts that describe cities that got attacked are descriptive texts (texts that tell about something that happened, like the story of Jonah, for example), not prescriptive (texts that tell about something that should happen, like Colossians 3:18-4:6). You had mentioned the Abraham/Isaac story. That story also was a descriptive text, not a prescriptive one.
In short, you can say for certain whether or not someone is wrong for believing God wants him/her to kill his/her kid. Furthermore, you can make the same determination when in a discussion with someone who believes it is God’s direction for him/her to attack a city. You can do this by consulting the Scriptures. Furthermore, you must understand that the Bible is about Jesus, not us. Finally, you must know the difference between a prescriptive text and a descriptive text.
I hope this helps.
A FINAL WORD
One can easily make the Bible the most abused, misinterpreted and mishandled text in the world. People can do this by believing the Bible is about them. This often manifests itself through a term (coined, if I’m not mistaken, by Pastor Chris Rosebrough of Pirate Christian Radio) called narcigesis. This happens when one reads his or self into the biblical text. False teachers most guilty of this include Beth Moore, Steven Furtick, Christine Caine and John Gray, among others.
However, as Jesus notes, the Bible is about Him, not us (John 5:39-45):
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. 41 I do not receive glory from men; 42 but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. 43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him. 44 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope.
Jesus Christ Himself is stating the Scriptures testify about Him (verse 39). One must understand that He is the only way by which mankind may be saved (Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Isaiah 43:11). Furthermore, He neither lies nor changes (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; Titus 1:2; see also 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:16-21). Basically, we can trust everything Jesus says. If He says Himself that the Scriptures testify about Him, then that is the case.
As Matt Chandler once said in this epic video refuting the aforementioned false teacher John Gray, the Bible is not about you. As he and Rosebrough note, you are not David. Your trouble in life is not Goliath (nor is it a Ninevah, a Sanballat, etc.). You are also not any of the Bible characters (like Lydia, Judas, Thomas, etc.). There is also no Goliath in front of you to reveal the David in you (if that is the case, does that mean if there is a Bathsheba in front of me that there is a David to be revealed in me at that moment too?). Finally, do not believe it is God’a direction for you to “fill in the blank” just because a certain character did something in one of the descriptive texts in the Bible.
While the Bible is most definitely for us (as in for our betterment as penitent believers in Jesus Christ), that does not necessarily mean it is about us. The Bible is about Jesus and how He died on the cross for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (John 5:39-45; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; 1 Timothy 1:15; Matthew 1:21; John 1:29). May we remember that as we read God’s Word for our betterment.