Why Battling Believers Should Ask, ‘What If I’m Wrong?’
Four simple words — ‘What If I’m Wrong?’ — might make a huge difference in how Christians treat each other…as long as someone stops to ask.
A blog post by blogger Chris Kratzer caught my eye the other day.
The post was titled, “Hell-Believing, Wrath-Preaching, Fire-Breathing Christian—What If You’re Wrong?”
Kratzer is a pastor with 22 years of experience who says he has outgrown Conservative Christianity, as have a seemingly growing number of Christians who believe in God and want to live a life that follows Jesus but don’t seem to see much of the spirit of Jesus in many churches these days.
His post was about questioning the traditional image of Hell and what it’s like in that place and whether it might be possible that we’ve completely misinterpreted what the Bible meant by the term (or whether Biblical translations have fallen short of the mark). It’s well worth a read.
At the moment, I’m not out to debate his points on that post although I hope you’ll read and consider them.
But it was the question he asked in the title of his post — “What if You’re Wrong?” — that gnawed at me.
It’s a question I asked another progressive Christian blogger a while back.
I’ve written about John Pavlovitz before, and he’s quickly become one of my favorite bloggers. Like Kratzer, he questions the traditional views of Christianity that seem all too often to be intolerant, unsympathetic, and at times even hateful.
Too often these days, Christianity feels like politics. People seem more interested in exchanging talking points designed to win an argument than they are in actually listening to the concerns of the other person, even when that other person might just have a valid point that begs to be considered.
By contrast, the kinds of things both Kratzer and Pavlovitz write about strike me as the kind of Christianity I want to be part of.
That’s not because they preach of a Christianity that allows you to ignore rules and do whatever you want, but because they focus on a Christianity that puts the love of Christ and Christ’s example of grace as more important than shouting down everyone who doesn’t agree with you.
When I had the rare opportunity to speak to Pavlovitz by phone, that was one of the questions I asked.
“What if you’re wrong?” is certainly a question he’s heard before. But this time, it was different. It wasn’t being asked by someone who hopes he is wrong so that they can be right.
It was being asked by someone who hopes he isn’t wrong because the Christianity he describes feels a lot more like Jesus Christ to some of us, despite a large segment of churches who refuse to question anything they’ve ever been taught over decades out of some irrational fear.
I didn’t say that I disagreed with what he had to say and then asked what if he’s wrong as if to “snap him out of” some wrong thinking.
I said I agreed with a great deal of what he had to say and then asked, “What if we are wrong?”
He made an excellent point: God knows our hearts.
You know that church that has members who routinely picket funerals of soldiers because for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the soldiers themselves? The ones who almost seem happy when tragedies happen so they can deliver what they feel is an “I told you so” to as many people as they can? The ones who walk around with signs that begin, “God hates…”?
Even they think they are doing what’s right. They believe they’re the ones following God and it’s the other people in the world who they think they need to “educate” to get them on the right track.
It’s a scary thought for the rest of us who are so sure that they’re as wrong as they can be.
But what if it’s us?
What if they’re the ones who are right? What if it’s our version of Christianity that’s so skewed that we’ve blinded ourselves about what faith is really supposed to be about?
No, we don’t want to believe that, of course, because we want to always be the ones who are right about our core beliefs, but also because we want to believe that our sense of who God is and our sense of how he treats those who are faithful is accurate.
Will God reward people who end up living a faith based on a very skewed version of Christianity if they honestly believe (somehow!) that theirs isn’t skewed? Well, if we believe in a loving, fair, just God, maybe we have to believe that God will look at our intent, even if we’re wrong but honestly believe we’re doing everything we can to be faithful.
And maybe, if we believe in a loving, fair and just God, we begin to believe the people who are hurt by those who have it wrong might just have extra blessings for having had to live through their abuse in the name of a God they didn’t know as well as they think they do.
But a funny thing happens when you begin to ask, ‘What If I’m Wrong?’
You begin to question what you believe and why you believe it. If your beliefs are sound, this should only strengthen your resolve, not weaken it.
You begin to stop talking for a minute and actually listen to someone else’s point of view.
And you begin to start realizing that, no matter what you decide about how many of the answers you actually have, you may well not possess every single one of them.
Even if you don’t end up changing your mind about things, if you can at least stop shouting for a minute and actually have a conversation, you’re growing in what you believe and who you are.
And you might just find some people who you feel you need to pray for — not the kind of prayer that says, “God, please show them why I’m right,” but the kind of prayer that says, “God, please open both of our hearts to what You want us to believe and how you want us to behave.”
Even that would be an improvement over what has become the norm.