the challenge of the Word

This past Thursday, I attended a Bible Study where the topic each week is something based on current events and relating them back to the Bible and a Christian way of living.  It was only my second week there, and to set the scene a bit, it’s a 7AM breakfast and study attended by men only, most of whom are retired.  We’re in a church a bit north of the city in a community that used to be rural but has definitely become suburban.  The topic of the first week was the H1N1 virus and what a Christian response to “perceived threats” should look like, and this week’s topic was torture implemented by the US government.  This is not a study of the week of heart!

For the study, a little background is given and then the lesson progresses through various scripture passages that relate to the topic.  Part of the background was a recent survey that revealed that over half of churchgoers who attend services at least weekly — 54% — believe that torture of suspected terrorists is “sometimes” or “often” justified, compared to 42% of those who do not attend services.  Only 25% of total respondents (churchgoers and not) said torture is “never” justified.  (See more info: percentage graphic; more commentary.)

The discussion started out more political, which I wasn’t too interested in discussing, especially since I had met most of these men only the week before, but also because I didn’t seem to share much in common politically with those who were talking, and a Bible Study didn’t seem the right place to squabble about politics.  At this point, I was thinking to myself, “I don’t know if I can come to this again.  We seem to have really divergent views, and this is a bit uncomfortable for me.”

However, as the discussion moved on, more Bible verses were touched upon and the topic branched out into the idea of loving one’s enemies.  Others still showed some doubt in how “realistic” this might be, but it was now that I felt compelled to speak.  It wasn’t any more about politics, it was about faith and belief — my reason for attending.  I can’t adequately summarize what I was able to say (I’m not sure if I was really the one speaking), but I started by telling everyone that I’m a proponent of nonviolence, and I’m sure the rest of it had much to do with the idea of how challenging it really is to follow Christ’s examples and commandments. (This morning in worship I learned that “commandment” is only mentioned in John’s gospel once by Jesus, in saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12)  Torture and war don’t seem to me to be showing love in the way Jesus first loved us.

All in all, I felt pretty OK the way the Bible Study turned out.  It could be easy for me to just no show up again, knowing there are many there who I may not agree with on various matters, political and otherwise.  We all so often surround ourselves with like-minded people and don’t experience others holding views other than the ones we hold so dear.  We don’t get out of our comfort zones, and then we’re shocked when we hear others believing things contrary to what we believe in, for we have had no contact with them and cannot fathom where those viewpoints came from.  But being in a place where people can be open to others’ differences of opinion and thought, treating them with love and compassion in a discussion that seeks understanding and not the creation of enemies, is something we need a LOT more of in this would of ours.

I was lucky enough to attend a banquet today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a pastor’s ordination (the date he became a pastor).  He summoned up what he felt is his calling in ministry in just a few short words: To afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. As it hit my ears, it resonated deep inside of me, and I know it is something I will carry with me from this day forth.

The Gospel is challenging stuff, and if we (Christians) don’t shake things up and challenge one another to abandon what’s “comfortable” and look deeply into Scripture to truly follow the commands of Christ, who will?

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