As a member of the clergy, I am often tasked with teaching what the Bible says and then explaining what the Bible means. This is, at times, a difficult undertaking; the languages of the scriptures are not our own and the culture of the Bible is different from our present experience. There are verses, however, that are not hard to explain or apply. One of those ‘easy to understand and apply’ passages was included in my sermon on Sunday:
“Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 5:15 (NIV)
Easy to read: two wrongs don’t make a right; do good whenever you can for whoever you can.
On Sunday night the Oscars® will be handed out. Having seen all of the Best Film nominations, my prediction is that Philomena should win and 12 Years a Slave will win. These two films, although extremely different in subject matter, both demonstrate the virtue of the above verse that we ought not repay wrong for wrong. Philomena Lee was judged and degraded for the sins of her past, and when she was confronted over 50 years later by those who remained unforgiving she chose to respond with grace. Solomon Northup was kidnapped, enslaved and abused for 12 years, and when freedom was afforded him and retaliation was available to him he chose to show restraint. These films serve as supreme examples for what we know is true, that we must make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong.
Late Wednesday evening, Jan Brewer, the Governor of Arizona, vetoed SB 1062. According to the supporters of this legislation, it would have secured religious freedom by allowing service providers the right to deny their services for religious reasons; according to the critics, it would have specifically codified discrimination against the LGBT community by anyone who claimed to be a person of religious conviction. The legislation, which was silent regarding sexual orientation, was a response to a same-sex marriage court decision in bordering New Mexico. Governor Brewer made a biblical decision. The scriptures declare that we must strive to do what is good…for everyone. That includes doing good for those with whom we disagree. We ought to remain professional, so professional that we disclose that our best is offered to everyone even while disclosing that our creative passions may not be equal in every situation. Those who have religious convictions ought to be doing what is good for everyone.
In this world we are faced with opportunity to live biblically at every turn. We need to determine that we won’t repay wrong for wrong – not exchanging insults so that we feel superior, furthering gossip to injure our enemy, breaking the law because everyone else is doing it or refusing grace because it has been denied us. We need to determine that we will do good for everyone – act in healthy, helpful and wholesome ways in every situation in which we are placed.
Sometimes my job is easy – encouraging people to live out the truth of the Bible that we can understand. After all, it’s like Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” May we all be bothered enough to make good decisions.