What Do We Do When the Bible Clashes With Our Conscience?

The Presbyterian Church has sadly decided to boycott Israel. The Bible says that God regathered the people of Israel there on purpose, but when looking at the sufferings of the Palestinians, this denomination has decided that it cannot possibly be true.

They have also embraced gay marriage, struggling to believe that God knows best when he warns his children to steer clear of that path. Like many in the West, this segment of the Church holds Biblical wisdom in one hand and their own ideas of justice in the other, and have chosen to trust the latter. They subject the Scriptures to their own ideas of right and wrong, and twist its meaning until it agrees with theirs.

It’s easy to criticize others for this kind of mishandling of the Word of God, but perhaps there are parts of the Bible that you also find hard to come to terms with. For example, you may have shared my experience of putting the Bible back down slowly in amazement after reading words like “you shall dash their little ones against rocks”. What do we do with the Word of God when we come across passages that seem to defy our ideas of right and wrong?

How do we deal with the hard parts of the Bible?

The Bible, if one reads it right through, is full of things that can offend the sensibilities. Things that sure look like racism, condoning of slavery, harsh words about women, encouragement to do violent battle, the reality of hell, stoning those who are rude to their parents, and so on. We might wince, but the reality is that the Bible does say many things that are unpalatable to the average twenty first century mind. Many people have decided to reinterpret the Bible so that it says what they think it should say, and thus sidestep the awkwardness. 

When you listen – really listen – to most atheists and their objections to faith, the main problem they have is that the God we believe in does not seem to them to be good. They accuse the God of Israel of all kinds of evil characteristics, and therefore give Him a wide berth.

They wrongly assume that their moral yardstick is straighter than God’s.
They think they can be kinder than God.

But even as believers, we can fall into this same trap. The less we trust that God is good and loving, the less we will trust Him in general. We will doubt his Word and his ways, we will be slower to obey and slower to hand our lives fully over to Him and His service.

Faith is not only believing that God exists (demons believe that, and shudder) but it is believing that He is who He says he is: good, loving, faithful and perfectly just. This is the number one thing to get right. This is the top button of the shirt, that if buttoned up wrong, will cause all the others to be out of whack.

When you come to a tough spot, start digging!

Something I have wondered in the past about the Bible is this: why in the world would God put all those complex and dry law books right at the beginning? Surely He could see that a person trying to find Him by picking up His book would become bewildered and bored fairly quickly, without having a chance to see some of the encouragements found later on. I thought He could have perhaps rejigged the books a bit better. Then I came across the Koran and learned that the shortest and easiest parts are at the start, and it becomes progressively longer and more complex. An interesting contrast. Naturally we might think it a better idea to make it easy for people to enjoy the Word of God from the get-go. But by presenting His Word in this way, which often is so counter-intuitive to us, God lays down a challenge and an invitation.

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” (Proverbs 25:2)

Just as the sun is exactly the right distance away from earth – any closer and it would burn us up, yet any further away and we would die of cold – God has chosen to stay a perfect distance away to give us the honor of seeking Him out voluntarily. He has given us the freedom of decision to search, to dig, and to seek him with all our hearts. He wants to be pursued in seriousness, and truly sought after. He does not dazzle with inescapable brilliance, but to a measure He conceals Himself, so that only those who want Him will seek, and be drawn by His Spirit.

The Bible may be swiftly discarded by the less earnest seeker, but there are great treasures for those who choose to believe that there is something worth pursuing within those pages. Similarly, for us who have walked with the Lord for a while, we are also presented with this choice every time we come across a difficult passage.

When the Word seems to clash with our conscience, we have the choice to listen to what God might say to us: Will you seek Me with all your heart? Will you trust that I am indeed wise, good, and that I know better than you? Or will you try to resolve the matters in your own mind, with your own wisdom?

“Call to me and I will answer you”, says the Lord,“and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

Derek Prince says that whenever he finds a passage that clashes with him own sense of morality, he knows that if he digs in that spot, he will find treasure. We can learn wonderful things about God and His ways if we steady our gaze and delve into these matters, instead of avoiding or denying them. Sometimes the digging process will take many years, but in the meantime, will you trust Him? Will you believe that God does indeed know what He’s talking about, even when the rest of the world has decided that He doesn’t?

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55:6-9