When we answer a question, our answer cannot contradict what has already been proven to be true.
From now on, I will refer to this as the first principle of problem solving. We use this principle all the time, but I first became conscious of it in physics class. In class, when we solved a problem, we would write out equations derived from Newton’s Laws and then use the equations to get an answer. Once we solved the problem, we would check our answer against the equations. Since Newton’s Laws are true, if our answer wasn’t consistent with the equations, we challenged our answer, not the equations.
This same concept is important for our faith and for how we study the Bible. At the center of Christianity is Jesus’ death and resurrection; and if it all really happened, there are eternal implications that are far reaching. (This is not an apologetics blog, so my writing will assume that Jesus did indeed die and rise again.) I couldn’t possibly hope to address all of the them, so for now, let’s look at two of the most important implications:
When we understand Jesus’ death, we learn that God’s love for us is greater than we can fathom. On the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God that we deserve and Jesus’ eternal relationship with God was severed so that we could be reconciled back to God. On the cross, God’s love for us was proven.
When we understand Jesus’ resurrection, we learn that God is all powerful. In Romans 1, Paul says Jesus was declared to be the Son of God in power because of the resurrection. What’s more, Paul doesn’t attribute the resurrection as an act of desperation after Jesus got into a bad situation. No, he claims that the entire Old Testament was pointing toward Jesus’ death and resurrection—it was always central to the plan. So the resurrection not only proves God’s power in a miraculous event, but the resurrection also proves God’s power in orchestrating all of human history. God is in control of everything.
Everything we now conclude about God must be consistent with God’s love and power.
Let’s look at an example of how to apply this. Romans 9 is one of the most difficult and controversial chapters in the Bible. It is about God’s sovereign choice—i.e. predestination. Here is an excerpt:
“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” Romans 9: 18–20a
There’s no need to explain why this is a difficult passage, and my initial reaction is that this proves God is unloving, but this is why the first principle of problem-solving is so important. If God proved His love for us, then whatever our conclusion is from this passage, it can’t be that God is unloving. The cross won’t allow that.
I still wrestle with this passage, but each time I do, the cross forces me to say, “God, this feels unloving and unfair and I don’t understand it, but I know that you love us. You proved that, so I am going to trust your understanding over my understanding because you are God, and I am not.”
This principle goes beyond Biblical interpretation. We are drawn to meditate on the cross so that even when we don’t see God’s love—when a loved one dies unexpectedly, when we lose our job, or when disease and disaster brings destruction to the world—we can be confident that God loves us and is in control, so we can trust Him. Maybe that’s the whole point?