If I were in charge of writing the opening lines of Philippians 3 for the here and now from my own personal perspective, it would read like this:
Religion has been the largest driving force in my life for more than three decades. I have been part of more Bible studies, growth groups, and outreach ministries than I can count. I have read books and papers, watched documentaries, and taken university courses to further my understanding of hermeneutics and how the beliefs of Christianity have evolved and changed for two thousand years. But all of this, I consider a loss* because of Christ.
When Jesus was confronted by a group of zealous religious legalists with the Biblical command that they should stone a woman caught in adultery, they thought they had Him trapped in a corner. If Jesus answered that they should let her go, he was opposed to Biblical truths; but if he said ‘stone her,’ then He would be contradicting His own teachings. Instead, Jesus found a third way. He wrote something in the ground, said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” and the men all felt so convicted, they dropped their stones and skulked away.
For centuries, people have pondered “What did Jesus write?” but I think the more interesting question is “why doesn’t the Bible tell us what Jesus wrote?” After all, if there is a way to convict legalists and save lives, it would be really helpful right now, especially after a number of evangelicals stopped sponsoring children through World Vision when they announced that they wouldn’t prohibit gay people from handing out the bread.**
So right now, we could really use the wisdom of what was written, so why doesn’t the Bible tell us?
My theory is this: not only was Jesus trying to tell those men something with what He wrote, but the Bible is trying to tell us something by not telling us what it was. I would contend that the Bible is letting us know that Christ is not limited by these narrow right vs. wrong worldviews that we hold. We are, just as the men in this story were, the ones who want to frame what God is and is not, and Christ will not fit in your box…or mine.
If the Bible had told us what Christ was writing, it would help us to put the story, who was right, who was wrong, and the ways in which they were right or wrong all into that neat little box. But God is bigger than that.
Should we strive to know what the heart of God is so that we may better be Christ in the world? Yes. But should we threaten with stones anyone we deem as wrong? Christ didn’t seem to think so. And if we are to be Christ in the world, we need to find a third way. Let’s not be content to be split into two warring camps, we are all one family. Christ didn’t die just for people who believe your exact theology (or mine), Christ died for all of us.
These days so much of the church wants to focus so much on being right, that even though they believe they are acting in love, nobody outside of that camp sees love, they don’t feel love. Subsequently, many on the other side want to focus on being about love, and while people on the outside see love, sometimes they don’t see Truth.
What did Jesus write? The more I think about it, the more I realize it doesn’t matter. What matters is what the Bible is trying to tell us in not telling us. Christ’s love for that woman and for those men was too big to fit in a box that only had room for truth or grace.
Let’s stop trying to fit God in a box. Let’s be Christ in the world.
*Most Bible translations have been sanitized to quote Paul as saying that he considers these things “a loss,” Bible scholars will tell you however that what Paul actually said was that he considers those things shit next to knowing Christ — that is, the word he uses is the profane-colloquial for feces. If I’m talking about Bible studies, I felt compelled to point that out.
** World Vision reversed course, my thoughts on that are here.