By Beth Demme
I sort of met a US Supreme Court Justice one time and the subject of aliens came up.
When I was in law school, John Paul Stevens visited our campus. Even though Constitutional Law was my least favorite class, I understood how cool it was that he was hanging out at my school. He gave a brief lecture and, as speakers often do, he took questions from the audience.
Put yourself in that situation. You’re in a small auditorium with about 300 people. One of the greatest legal minds of the day is in front of you, and you can ask him anything. Most people offered well worded questions that demonstrated their intelligence and their knowledge of constitutional law.
Most people. But not all.
One of our professors, the one who always wore a beret (you know the type), rose from the back of the room and said: “Justice Stevens, if aliens from outer-space landed on Earth today, how would you explain the existence of dissenting opinions?”
What? Huh? Space aliens?
Justice Stevens probably wondered if he was talking to a space alien, but he answered very politely. He was definitely a gentleman.
He explained that dissenting opinions exist because intelligent people can disagree. Every member of the Court does their best to interpret and apply the law, but they don’t always agree.
I think Christians really need to hear this: Intelligent People Can Disagree. Even when we each do our best to understand, interpret and apply God’s teaching, we won’t always agree.
Attention Christians: Disagreement Is Okay
I used to attend a large, well-established bible study with hundreds of other women. After about a year, I realized the other women in the group were caring, loving, amazing people … and they viewed God differently than I did. I see God as a loving creator who desires relationship with everyone. They seemed to view God as a stern disciplinarian running an exclusive club with steep entrance requirements.
I was reminded of this experience when one of my favorite Christian authors admitted he didn’t attend worship regularly. He opened a great big can of worms and I’m sure he lost fans over it. Poor fellow said he wasn’t drawn closer to God through music or sermons.
And yet, because worship is so meaningful to me, I wondered if he was a space alien. I considered writing him a letter, but I wasn’t sure how to mail it to another planet.
My first reaction was to look at our differences. Isn’t it funny how we do that? It’s so easy to think someone who has different thoughts or ideas must be from a different planet.
But then I remembered intelligent people can disagree. I realized he probably is an earthling who just happens to worship differently than me.
But Who’s Right?
After the bible study experience when I realized my view of God was different, I found myself trying to articulate why the bible study ladies were wrong. I wanted to be sure that my view was the right view. I talked it over with people I trusted. I continued to study the bible faithfully. I read books and blogs. I listened to podcasts and lectures searching for justification for my position.
You know what is really amazing?
Instead of finding a way to establish my view as the right one, I found that human ideas about God are varied because everyone connects with Him differently.
There are Christian churches with doctrine that I find repulsive. I don’t see how people can be drawn to those places. And yet, they are drawn to them and they find God amid the doctrine I can’t stomach.
It’s been hard to admit, but they aren’t finding a false God there. They are finding my God there.
It turns out, God reaches people in many different ways.
This is part of His glory. I was unsettled by it for a time, but now I find joy in worshiping a God I can’t completely understand. In fact, if God could be completely understood and rationalized, I think that would make God sort of small. Don’t you agree? Just like Paul says in one of his letters to the Christians in Corinth, God is beyond human comprehension:
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (MSG)
The next time I feel tempted to judge someone else’s approach or interpretation as wrong, I hope I will remember that my own understanding of God is foggy, at best. I don’t have to use my energy on judging and labeling others, I’m free to trust, hope, and love extravagantly. After all, intelligent people can disagree.
Are there Christian doctrines or ideas that leave you skeptical? Do you wonder if you are worshipping with space aliens because people at church disagree with you? Tweet me and tell me all about it (in 149 characters or less), send me an e-mail, or find me on Facebook.