My sister, her grandson, and I are standing in front of the moat at the Imperial Castle in Tokyo, taken a few days before the earthquake. Our tourist guide pointed to the wall of rocks and said that it was 400 years old. She explained that the builders fashioned it to survive earthquakes by allowing for movement between the rocks. Little did we know that two days later, we would experience a huge earthquake–9.0.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, I talked with people whose relatives were looking out a high rise building in Tokyo when the earthquake hit. He said the buildings were swaying as if they couldn’t possibly not fall over and crash. Yet no high rise buildings fell because they were built on ball bearings that allow the buildings to float and take the vibrations.
That speaks to me of flexibility. As Christians, we know that the Bible is filled with doctrines that we can’t manipulate, change, or “be flexible about.” There are basic tenants that can not be changed. But knowing that our hearts can easily be swayed by our own sinful desires, we should still hold loosely beliefs that might be wrong. Otherwise when there are “earthquakes” in our lives like illness, confusion, or rejection, we can be open to making sure our thinking really is the truth.
I just finished reading Tullian Tchividjian’s fabulous book, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels. He uses the book of Jonah as the basis for a wonderful examination of grace. And grace is more flexible than we think. What we sometimes are convinced God is like or how He will react, can surprise us.
For instance, Jonah couldn’t understand why God would forgive the evil of the Assyrians in Ninevah. After receiving the call to preach repentance to the Ninevites, Jonah tried to flee to Tarshish because “I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life.” (Jonah 4:2-3 NASB).
Jonah was so angry about God acting in such a way that went against his prejudices that he wanted God to strike him dead. His hatred of the Ninevites made him inflexible and hard so that he couldn’t understand God’s gracious love–even for ungodly people.
If we’d had a chance to talk to Jonah, he would have been convinced that his view of how God should act was completely right. But he was blinded by his own prejudice and hatred.
I must repeat that there are indeed some doctrines and principles that are clear in the Bible that do not allow for any flexibility. But shouldn’t we also be careful about labeling something as dogmatic when our opinions, prejudices, or upbringing could be getting in the way?
If you haven’t yet seen the video of the swaying buildings, check it out. May it remind us to be flexible at times.