Today's Issues Q&A

 

Issue:

In Luke 6:30, we read, “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Should we give to someone who is a taker, or who takes advantage of people?

 

Response (staff answer):

Giving is so natural, and being generous is so vitally important. It’s at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. But wisdom is also central. This month’s Bible Character and Themes topic discusses the similar passage from Matt 5:42: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (5:42 NIV).

One of the points it brings out is that the Spirit gives us discernment—to understand what is being asked or what is the best course of action. Is the person asking for money for food or for spending on frivolous activities or addictions? And if someone takes something from us, do we go after them and retaliate? Or is there a better response?

Jesus never advocated being a doormat. He, himself, was a very strong individual. He didn’t let people take advantage of him. He walked right through the mob that was trying to fling him off a cliff. He knew he was walking towards the crucifixion … and then he rose.

So let’s look at this statement in a broader context. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ words come in relation to how to deal with people who are unkind and insulting, who take, compel service, and ask a lot. What do we do? We refuse to take offense, to retaliate, to escalate the violence. Rather, we maintain our dignity; we respond calmly and with strength. We try to de-escalate the situation. We make people more important than things. We refuse to let possessions become a god to us. We let God correct the other person and mete out justice. Most importantly, we rely totally on God for everything.

Later in the Sermon, Jesus will counsel, “… do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matt 7:6 NIV). And a few chapters later, we learn that Jesus told his disciples, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (10:16 KJV).

Neither of these statements suggests that we let people take advantage of us. Rather, these words indicate the need to be judicious in our actions. If people don’t listen, let them go. Don’t force. Don’t get upset. Don’t waste time. Move on. And then, if we come face-to-face with “wolves,” with those we may call “takers,” what do we do? Jesus doesn’t tell his disciples to let the wolves take advantage of them. He says to be wise … and harmless. It doesn’t make sense to aggravate a wolf, to make things worse. We don’t want to escalate the situation and have them hurt us. Rather, we can step out of the way and let God take care of the situation. God’s ways are always better than our ways.

So if someone takes from us, what do we do? The first thing we do is turn to God and let the Spirit give us discernment.

Here are two examples:

  • A friend of mine, who was in college at the time, had her purse stolen on a bus in Italy. She watched the thief hop off. She got off at the next stop, ran back, and saw him sitting there on the bench. She told him that was her purse, got it back, and hopped back on the bus. She was strong, courageous, and totally led by the Spirit!

  • Then there’s the wonderful example in Les Misérables: Jean Valjean steals the silverware of the bishop of Myriel. But when the police try to arrest Jean Valjean, the bishop says the silverware was a gift. Myriel’s gift of forgiveness changed Jean Valjean’s life, and he became an honest and good man.

Can we let it go of the need to retaliate or fix things ourselves? Can we rely on God to meet all our needs, not just some of our needs? If our house has been robbed, what do we do? We call the police; we do what we can. We can mentally let go of the things that were taken and move on. Then we can we bless the thief with integrity, honesty, compassion. And can we let God take care of the rest. We can also bless those who try to take our joy, hurt our feelings, ruin our lives. The Spirit might move us to not associate with those people any more. Or there might be healing.

So what can we give to a taker? We can give forgiveness. We can give blessings. We can give healing. And let God take care of the rest.


Issue:

Why do you use BCE instead of BC and CE instead of AD? Are you trying to minimize Jesus’ life and message?

 

Response (staff answer):

Our mission is to foster a deeper love and understanding of the Bible and its application in daily life. We want it to reach as many people as possible. Our website has a broad audience, reaching Christians, Jews, and Muslims. We want to be inclusive. But in no way do we want to diminish Jesus’ life or message, or to minimize Christianity, or any other faith. In fact, Christians, Jews, and Muslims all have the common ancestor of Abraham (Abram). We want to honor the universal message of love.

One Bible scholar has explained the difference, and it is on our site. But since we’ve had recent questions on this, we are highlighting it again.

B.C. is generally thought to mean "before Christ," and has been used to date events before the birth of Jesus. A.D. is the abbreviation for the Latin phrase anno Domini, which means "in the year of our Lord," and is used for dates after the birth of Jesus. This system was devised by a monk, Dionysius Exiguus, back in the year 525 (A.D.). He used the presumed year of Jesus' birth as a starting point. Unfortunately, since then, scholars have discovered that Jesus was actually born around 4-6 B.C., so his calculations were off by a few years. Nonetheless, he believed that the birth and life of Jesus were the "turning points" in world history, and that the world should forever commemorate that moment. A mere two centuries after Dionysius, a monk known as Venerable Bede introduced a Latin term that is roughly translatable as "before Christ" to identify the years preceding Jesus' birth. By the ninth century, A.D. was a common notation, but B.C. didn't really catch on until the fifteenth century. This dating has been used for centuries by Western scholars. Simply put, B.C. was everything "before Christ," and since His birth, we have been living A.D. "in the year of our Lord."

However, the world has changed dramatically over the past few decades. People have long acknowledged that Christianity is not the only tradition (not even among Western nations) and argued that it is patently unjust to force a religious system on those who do not share the values of that tradition. Some detractors have called it "political correctness" gone overboard, but the words anno Domini have been gradually replaced by C.E., meaning "the common era." B.C., meanwhile, has been changed to B.C.E., "before the common era." All the previous dates remain the same, but the change in notation is thought to be more neutral.

The term, "the common era," has been around for hundreds of years, but only recently has it been applied to the designation of dates. Interestingly, the term is derived from the Latin word vulgaris, (from vulgus, the common people). It means "of or belonging to the common people, or everyday." Historically, scholars used the phrases "Vulgar Era" or anno Domini somewhat interchangeably when writing about the time after Jesus. Unfortunately, the word "vulgar" now has a different meaning in our culture (crudely indecent), so the Latin word was dropped for its English counterpart, "common."

The word "common" also refers to the fact that the Christian calendar (the Gregorian) is the most frequently used calendar system around the world. Any other calendars are normally confined to small geographic areas -- usually by followers of a particular religion.

Of course, some scholars see the terms C.E. and B.C.E. as meaning the "Christian Era" and "before the Christian Era," respectively, but most understand the terms to mean "common." As other non-religious academics (history, anthropology, and archaeology) continue to use these abbreviations, it is thought that they will eventually totally replace BC and AD. It isn't that one is right and the other is wrong; it's a matter of being sensitive to other cultures and belief systems. In general, people's preferences derive from that with which they are most comfortable and whichever pair is more commonly used.

 


 

Issue:

How do we handle the divisiveness and bitterness in politics? Can the Bible help?

 

Response (staff answer):

It’s so easy to judge, to condemn, to defend our own human opinions, and point out some else’s faults. But these don’t help us solve problems. In fact, anger, blame, and fault-finding create the very divisiveness and bitterness we want to heal. Jesus said to “cast the beam out of your own eye” first (Matt 7:5). So rather than try to fix someone else, we have to start with ourselves. In all our dealings and conversations, we want to come from an honest place. And then we may have to give up our human opinions and turn to prayer.

A New Testament writer explained:

First of all, I ask you to pray for everyone. Ask God to help and bless them all, and tell God how thankful you are for each of them. Pray for kings and others in power, so that we may live quiet and peaceful lives as we worship and honor God. This kind of prayer is good. (I Tim 2:1-3 CEV)

First, we pray—not first we criticize or blame. We pray for everyone, for leaders, whether or not we agree with their viewpoints, whether or not they are elected officials or dictators. We pray for the office of leadership. Why? Because prayer can often do what human opinion or actions cannot. Prayer can reveal solutions we didn’t know were possible.

Prayer that is not just wishful thinking, prayer that is not just idle hope, but prayer that is the earnest expectation of God’s heavenly goodness being expressed here on earth, can transform situations and bring about healing. We want leaders to hear God’s voice so that they make honest, good, kind, successful decisions that lead to peace and harmony, unity and love. And that can come through sincere, heartfelt prayer to God, who is Love, and loves us all so dearly.

We cannot pray to God and condemn other human beings at the same time, in the same moment. Hurling insults often seems easier, but Jesus’ leadership says nothing about attacking politicians, slandering or libeling them, ruining careers with false accusations, spreading gossip on social media, or believing everything we hear about everyone and everything. Rather, we can find respectful ways to disagree with viewpoints or means that are different than ours without condemning or disparaging the person.

Jesus was pretty clear on that. He told us to love our enemies and warned us about getting angry at others: “I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matt 5:22 NLT).

Jesus expected us to live a life of love, not condemnation. Insulting someone, calling them an idiot, a fool—all of that leads to a hellish experience. To a huge degree, our perspective on events and issues really determines how we feel and what we experience. In other words, if we’re negative, looking for all the problems, that’s what we’ll see and feel—a lot of negativity. And that doesn’t fix or heal anything.

So what do we do? The psalmist declared, “Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm” (37:8 NLT). We go back to prayer. If we want solutions—genuine solutions, not just our own solutions—then we have to pray. God knows better than we do how to give peace to His children.