Rocks in the Diamond Mine:
How to Keep from Stumbling Over the Tough Passages in the Bible
March 1, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our topic and our title today is “Rocks in the Diamond Mine: How to Keep from Stumbling over the Tough Passages in the Bible.”
My friends, as you can see today and from the past weeks, I’m really excited about the Bible; I’m really excited about this book. I’m excited about what God does for us through this gift. And I hope you are, too. My prayer for you is that God would touch your life and inspire you to pick this book up and read and let Him bless you through it.
You’ve already done that this morning, by looking at our readings from the Bible. I pray that you would continue to do it. One of the members of our church has suggested that this Lenten time we give up something – we give up not reading the Bible. I think that’s a great idea! I hope that we all pick up the Bible as often as we can this season, and read and discover what God has for us in there.
The Bible is a wonderful book that can bring us the word and the thoughts of God. But let me tell you about a conversation I had with a member of our church. He said to me, “Pastor, I really like your sermon series about the Bible, but there are stories in there and statements in there that I just can’t understand. I can’t get beyond them. I can’t reconcile my picture of a loving God with some of the stuff I read in there, especially in the Old Testament. What do I do?”
I want to talk about that with you today. I want to talk about those rocks in the diamond mine. And the reason I want to talk about them is that I don’t want you to trip over them. Most of all, I don’t want them to make you to give up and close the book! Let’s talk about how we can deal with tough passages in the Bible.
I tell you what I’m going to do – I’m going to give you the entire sermon in one word. Are you ready? The word is balance. Balance. Think of the statue of Lady Justice. She holds the scales with the plates even. What’s the approach to dealing with the hard passages? It’s balance. When you come across something that’s tough in the Bible, look at it in a balanced way.
I think we need to balance our spirits; we need to balance our judgment; and we need to balance our vision.
How? Let’s take a tough passage. For instance, Deuteronomy 7 – “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before … seven nations greater and mightier than you; and when the Lord your God delivers them unto you, you shall conquer them and utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.”
Oh! How are we going to deal with that? That doesn’t sound like the loving God we know, does it? How do you deal with a passage like that? You deal with it, my friends, with balance.
First of all, let’s balance our spirits. When you come across a tough passage in the Bible; don’t worry about it! Don't let it bog you down. Move past it, because God has a lot of diamonds in that mine for you.
Take a confusing or disturbing passage in the Bible with the attitude that was displayed by the Rev. Leslie Weatherhead. Leslie Weatherhead was a Methodist minister who lived and preached in London during the Second World War. He wrote a wonderful book called The Christian Agnostic. He said this: “When I come to a passage that I find tough, I have a mental drawer in the desk of my mind that’s labeled ‘Awaiting Further Light.’ I take that passage and I put it in that drawer. I close the drawer and I don’t worry about it anymore, until God gives me further revelation about how to deal with that tough passage.”
If you come across a passage that simply will not yield to spiritual interpretation, that cannot be understood in context of the times or society, and is just too “over the top” to square with modern sensitivity, well, just give it, and yourself, a break. The people that wrote the Bible down were humans like you and me. They were looking hard for God. They were listening hard for God. But sometimes, they “saw through a lens darkly”. They had none of our modern advantages of science, geology, medicine, or technology. They were subject to hot weather, thirst, and politically uncertain times. They were human beings. Even Bible writers slipped sometimes. But then again, so do we - right? So, if you come to a feisty rock that just won’t yield, don’t break your spirit on it. Let your spirit flow around it, like a flowing stream. Say, “On to the next diamond,” and let God bless you elsewhere in the Great Book.
Balance your spirit. Don’t let it make you stumble. The story is told about a little girl named Lucy who was having a conversation with her brother. The brother said, “Lucy, I had a hard time in Sunday School today. We were studying a passage from the Bible, and God just seemed so angry.”
“Oh,” she said, “I never let that bother me. Was it in the Old Testament?”
He said, “Yes!”
She said, “I never let that bother me.”
He said, “You don’t? I got pretty upset reading about how angry God was.”
She said, “I never let that bother me. Here’s the way I look at it. The Old Testament is the story of God before He became a Christian. The New Testament is the story of God after He became a Christian.”
Well, Pastor, what are you doing? Are you telling us to take the Bible lightly sometimes? Yes! Yes, I am! Why? Because lightness of spirit can be the shield of Christ. It can be what keeps the difficult stone from hitting you. It keeps you flowing like a stream around the stones. It can be what keeps you going over the rough places, because there are diamonds in store. So, the first thing we need to do is have a light heart when it comes to troublesome passages, and to not worry about it; balance your spirit.
Second, balance your judgment when it comes to the tough passages of the Bible. Ever since the days of John Wesley, United Methodists have had four tests of truth: scripture; reason; tradition; and experience. Those are like the four legs of the table: they give it balance. Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience are the four lights that we shine on situations in order to gain insight and truth. So, when you read a passage of scripture that’s tough for you, say “Thank You, God, for my wonderful mind.” God wants you to shine the light of your mind on that passage. “Lord, thank You for the experiences I have had in life, that also come to shine light on that scriptural passage.” Balance your judgment of the scripture.
You may come to a passage that seems to cast hard judgment on certain people. The writer of the scripture passage saw through the lens of his own experience at the time. Your experience of people, and of God, and of Jesus’ spirit, can broaden, soften, and enlighten that passage. That’s how we can bring balance to some of those hard passages.
Third, balance your vision. Remember we talked last week about the Bible being a great big mountain. It’s a panoramic landscape. And at the top of that mountain, in glowing light, is Jesus. Jesus is the top of the mountain. Take the high way to Him. Don’t let yourself be distracted by the little side roads and the darker corners of the mountain. Remember that the high way leads to Jesus, and that He’s the focus and the central point of it all. Keep that vision in your mind as you read the Bible.
Finally – talk about visions – the Bible is like a diamond mine: you have to go to it; you have to open it up; you have to search it; you have to dig around; you have to say ‘what does this symbolize in my life?’ But if you do, my friends, you will be able to get past those few rocks in your way, and you will be able to find the diamonds of truth that God has for you.
Let’s end with some of those diamonds today, shall we? Once you get past those rocks, what are some of the diamonds you’re going to find in that Bible?
“The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.”
“My cup runneth over.”
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall famine or peril or poverty or sword? We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”
Those are diamonds!
“I am convinced that nothing shall ever separate us from the love of Christ Jesus.”
That’s a diamond!
“Jesus said, ‘I am with you always.’”
That’s a diamond!
Friend, the Bible is a diamond mine filled with precious and priceless insights. My prayer for you this week is that you would not let the rocks get in your way, that you would plow right through them and go for the diamonds of insight and blessing that God has put there for you. God wants them for you, because - God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
PS: Regarding that passage from Deuteronomy I mentioned earlier: We could also treat those "seven nations stronger than you" as habits, negative thoughts, and negative beliefs about ourselves that God wants us to conquer in order to come to the promised land of blessing that He has in store for us. He wants us to conquer them totally, no negotiations or compromises.
Also, a member of our congregation had this interpretation: perhaps those seven nations represent negative peer pressure; external influences that can be nothing but toxic to our lives and the lives of our children. God calls us to separate ourselves from them, no negotiation.
A marvelous spiritual interpretation.
Hmmm… maybe that particular passage could out to be something of a diamond after all…
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski