My son Ben has significant intellectual disabilities. As a result, he has a very small vocabulary consisting of only nouns and verbs. If I say, “Do you want ice cream?” He’ll respond with enthusiasm. And if I say, “Do you never want ice cream again?” I’ll get the same response. He hears “ice cream”, and that’s all that registers.
After a recent trip to Dairy Queen where we had fun with this particular quirk of Ben’s, it made me wonder: how often do we read the scriptures with only an ear to what we want to hear? How many of us, like Ben, have selective listening?
The Bible has a lot to say about suffering. But often we skip over those passages to find ice cream. How many times do we reduce the power and glory of scripture to cheerful platitudes? We see them everywhere on social media, those beautiful and encouraging verses, but we rarely see the verses that challenge us to holiness or humility.
I frequently hear Philippians 4:13 quoted, ” I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”, but I rarely hear that the context of this verse is learning to be content in every situation. We like the thought of receiving the strength for accomplishing our own agenda, but aren’t as enthusiastic about building strength of character through learning contentment.
Another favorite is Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We like to think that the “good” it speaks of is relief from our suffering, solving of our problems, health and prosperity. But the very next verse defines the “good” as becoming “conformed to the image of his Son”. Somehow that part gets overlooked.
If I only read the “ice cream” verses in the Bible but ignore the truths that are harder to hear, the god I am following is an idol of my own creation rather than the true and living God.
Don’t we all crave honesty? In a culture saturated by marketing, with the messages we hear crafted around opinion polls and sound bites, being told the truth – even a hard truth – is what we need. Jesus said that He is the truth and oh, the relief that comes when we find out that instead of being emotionally manipulated by culture or someone’s agenda or popular opinion, we can rest on something solid and unchanging.
I wonder how many people walk away from Jesus because they only want the ice cream and refuse to accept the nourishing food that strengthens and keeps us in hardship.
I wonder how many of us slip into doubt when we find out that ice cream isn’t offered in every course on the menu.
The Bible tells us the truth. And sometimes the truth stings our conscience and confronts our assumptions. But would we rather build our lives on truth, or keep sipping the sweet Kool-Aid of self-deception?
Don’t get me wrong. Following Jesus is, indeed, sweet. The Bible is filled with encouragement, tenderness and hope. But it also speaks of suffering, conviction and correction. These things don’t contradict each other; instead, together they paint the whole picture of this life. We are not left to our own or others’ illusions on the upward way, but shown in stark reality the depth of the darkness and the power of the light.
This is a God worth knowing – One who is honest with us. Honest about life and death; joy and sorrow; heaven and hell.
I love ice cream. It might very well be my favorite food. But if I only eat ice cream I will become malnourished and, eventually, bored with it. Its the same way with the Bible. If I pick and choose what I want to hear, I will be ill equipped to deal with suffering and sorrow. Religious platitudes can’t hold a person up when they are blindsided by tragedy. But truth can. And truth is sweeter, in the long run, to the soul.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. – Psalms 34:8