A few years ago, we were reading through Colossians in the Bible reading on Wednesday nights. We began the reading like we always do: someone reads through the passage, then we go back through and discuss it. We were finishing Colossians 1 that night, so we read vv. 21–23:
21 And you, who once were alienated and enemies in mind by wicked works, yet now has it reconciled 22 in the body of his flesh through death; to present you holy and unblamable and irreproachable before it, 23 if indeed ye abide in the faith founded and firm, and not moved away from the hope of the glad tidings, which ye have heard, which have been proclaimed in the whole creation which [is] under heaven, of which *I* Paul became minister.
And as soon as the reader stopped, without the slightest pause, while the words of Colossians 1 were still echoing around the hall, someone said, "Well, that doesn't really mean 'if' there, right?"
We have those experiences, when something jars us and we find ourselves having to re-examine our thoughts and our beliefs. This was one of those experiences for me. It struck me at that moment that the Word of God was making an important point, and we had become used to blunting that point because it made us uncomfortable.
I've mentioned before a comment I read by Rich Mullins where he was discussing John 6. He said something like, "the disciples didn't have 2000 years of theology to soften the point Jesus was making." That's not really the quote, I can't find it right now. But it was something like that. It centered on the idea that so much of our theology is really trying to dull the edge of the Word of God. That sounds an awful lot like Matthew 15:6.
So there I was, wondering if we'd made the Word of God of none effect by the traditions of the fathers. Had we done violence to what God was telling us, just because it made us uncomfortable? What would happen if I allowed "if" to mean "if?"
In the end, God has the right to say things that offend me. That's the lesson of Romans 9:19–20, right? The single most important lesson is that God is God, and I am not. At some point, it becomes robbing God of His rights when we try to explain away what Scripture actually says.
And so I've made an effort not to try and explain away the text when scripture says something I don't like. I've tried hard to submit to it. I once heard someone say he was tired of people judging the Word of God, rather than being judged by it. I confess I've spent a lot of time in that camp. We need to realize that the Word of God judges us, not the other way around.
Several years ago, I was in a Bible reading when someone mentioned that reading William Kelly taught him what the scripture actually said. He said something like this:
Kelly frequently says something like, "Scripture says ________."
I read that and I think, "That's not what it says!" Then I read the passage again, and it's exactly what the text says: I've been misreading it for years!I haven't had that experience reading Kelly, although I've had it reading Darby.
I have come to realize that a great deal of what I grew up believing is simply not in the text. As an example, I had always believed that many saints came out of the tomb after the crucifixion of Christ and went into Jerusalem. But that's not what the text says. It specifically says that they arose after Christ's resurrection (Matthew 27:51–53).
But the point is not that I now know my Bible better than I did as a kid. (I should hope I do!) Nor is it that scripture contains troubling statements (it certainly does). The point is that I have seen in myself and in so many Christians I have known a tendency to try to fit the Word of God into our theology, rather than the other way around.
So I'm making a point at pausing at all those "ifs" in scripture and letting them sink in. And I'm not trying to replace "if" with "since" every time I read it. Sometimes it really does mean "since" (like Colossians 3:1), but not every time, and probably not most times.