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Faith and Values: I truly don’t understand when believers settle for spiritual shallows

By Paul Graves For The Spokesman-Review

In September, I wrote a letter to our grandkids encouraging them to not stay in the spiritual shallows. They have more control there, but they experience less of what life has to offer them. I want to revisit that piece in a different way. I begin with a true pastoral story.

Nearly 40 years ago, a wonderful, elderly member of the church I served at that time always greeted me after worship with “Paul, you gave me something to think about today.” She also described herself as a Christian who studied the Bible and believed every word written there. I’ll call her “Grace.”

One day we were in a meeting together. Suddenly, she asked me, “Paul, do you believe in the virgin birth of Jesus?” I simply responded, “Grace, I put as much emphasis on the virgin birth as Jesus and Paul did.” She was completely satisfied.

I don’t think she realized that nowhere in the Bible did Jesus or Paul say anything about Jesus being born from a virgin. Grace’s biblical knowledge was obviously selective – like everyone else who claims to know the Bible, including me.

What I truly don’t understand is how we who read and claim the Bible are so blind to our selective use of its words, yet can claim that “God said it, I believe it, and that’s that!” I think it has something to do with our fearful reluctance to move beyond the shallows, where we think we are in control.

Oh, I know most Bible-believing people say “God’s in control.” But it’s harder and harder for me to believe they mean it. I truly don’t understand why they think God is in control only when God “believes” as they do. It seems too convenient.

God’s power is replaced by theirs, and they don’t even realize that’s what has happened. It also happens when we neglect to let our religion positively shape our behavior, and instead use our religion to justify our behavior.

I sadly watch too many professed followers of Jesus use the Bible to create divisions within the American Church. Division only creates destructive power.

We are bombarded daily with news reports of how “Christians” are supporting political leaders whose actions don’t at all reflect a deeper understanding of Jesus’ life and message.

We’re also bombarded with reports of other “Christians” who attack the first group of “Christians” for various levels of spiritual hypocrisy. I truly don’t understand how either group of “Christians” find their reactions to each other reflecting a healthy, humble image of Jesus in their lives.

I wonder if it’s at all instructive that when Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he didn’t list the 10 commandments one-by-one. Instead, he reminded his questioner that “Love God with all your heart” is the greatest, plus “The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Why are we so busy protecting our religious shallows, where we’re in control, where we have power? Jesus wasn’t into the “love of power,” but the “power of love.” Every time we shout at, or demonize someone we don’t agree with, we live in the shallows, on the love-of-power side.

And there’s a lot of that going on, folks. It is not only sad to watch, but it totally compromises any integrity we have as Christians. To denigrate others in the name of God is disgusting.

So, why do we do it? And why, if we don’t do it, are we silent when we hear it or watch it?

I truly don’t understand. God made us to be so much more than what we settle for.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at

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