The trouble with thinking
I am a fan of William Barclay’s Notes on the New Testament, have been for more than thirty years. He has an astute awareness of human nature and a keen mind that connects things most people miss. I have read him enough times to know that I do not agree with all of his theology. Yet I admire the way he thinks and presents his thoughts. We live in a very polarized world, and not just politically. Yes, Congress votes party lines even when personal conscience might say to vote otherwise. The media seem to have a belief structure and help us to be aware when someone thinks differently. Outliers are rapidly identified and shunned and it rarely seems to matter that people are thinking. Sometimes that means they are THINKING. We all too readily conclude that thinking means people have decided.
God forbid anyone decide anything different from what I have already decided. That would make them wrong. One of the reasons I enjoy Barclay’s notes is that he is clearly thinking as he writes. We have become so polarized that differing thoughts separate friends and families and, it seems, churches. If someone says or does one thing that challenges us, we separate. It just seems to me that love ought to be stronger than that. Now I am just thinking here.
In his Daily Bible Study notes on John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” Barclay says, “The tremendous thing about this text is that it shows us God is acting, not for His own sake, but for ours. It was not to satisfy His desire for power that God acted. It was not to bring into being a universe brought to heel. It was to satisfy His love. God is not an absolute monarch who treats each man as a subject to be reduced to an abject obedience. God is a Father who cannot be happy until His wandering children have come home.”
A little later in the gospel though there is quite a challenge to the thinking that God loves no matter what. At first it even seems to be a contradiction, and if I were not a thinking man, I might have ceased reading before I had thought through what was being said. The next verse in John 3 reads, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” And all of this is spoken in the midst of a very intense conversation with Nicodemus about salvation. If all of God’s love were simply unconditional and irrevocably enacted for the whole world, then we would all be saved no matter what we said, thought, or did. And so it is at this point in the thinking and presentation of the gospel writer.
But the thinking is not yet complete. So now I can either think along with my savior or I can make up my mind that I have discerned what is true and will no longer listen to any thought to the contrary. If I believe I have heard enough and want no more of thinking, I will simply highlight and underline all those Biblical texts that support my position and agree with teachers who agree with me. Any and all who think otherwise are simply wrong and not really worthy of my attention. Should I step foot in a church where the leader begins teaching something that is contrary to what I have decided, I can simply stop listening or leave. We almost never would admit that what has really happened is that we have stopped thinking and determined that our decisions about an issue or a topic are more valuable to us than the person helping us think.
In just two short chapters, by chapter 5, John begins to share the thought of Jesus as a judge; he talks of separation, of sheep and goats, and all of this is clearly a contradiction to the thought that Jesus did not come to condemn, and there is no condemnation in Jesus, and everyone gets saved no matter what. A thinking person then says, now what do I believe? So I confess, actually thinking can be a bit of a mess. More to follow…