Theology That Wounds Rather Than Heals

One of the topics that has dominated the media recently is that of the ongoing dispute between Israel Folau and Rugby Australia.  Folau is seeking up to $10 million in damages from Rugby Australia after it terminated his contract following an Instagram post that said gay people were headed to hell unless they repented.  The Instagram post in question stated hell awaits “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters”. The post was deemed a high-level breach of RA’s code of conduct after previous warnings from the governing body not to denigrate people on the basis of their sexuality.

To me, there appears no issue with Folao’s theological interpretation and conviction.  The Bible does indeed state both in the old and new testament that there will be consequences to our thoughts and actions particularly when made against the God ordained plan for man and woman.  Perhaps that should be a discussion for another time.

Folau was merely sharing his faith in a public forum which has absolutely nothing to do with the ethos of Rugby Australia. Would a Vegan be sacked for stating that eating meat was abhorrent and detestable? Maybe, if he was doing this while working in a burger stall that sells beef burgers.

The resulting dilemma faced by many is in how to respond to this event. Whether we follow Folau or not (pun intended), interestingly enough, the debate appears to have also ignited the question of “free speech” and exacted a few heated arguments between many, particularly among fellow Christians. 

Having said all that, I’m not going to talk about “unfair dismissal” or “freedom of expression” here. I would, instead, like to address the matter of whether we should openly disseminate the truths of the Bible on public forums such as social media platforms like Folau and many others often do, however well-intentioned our motives may be. In the name of freedom of expression, should we make blanket statements albeit based on the Word of God, without a care in the world as to how it may be received? I think that the precious nuggets of the bible are best shared among the ones that value them and not just “strewn” around. In contrast to the parable of the sower, let’s consider this verse.

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces“. – Matthew 7:6 (NIV)

I believe that not unlike most things in life, timing is critically important particularly when publicly sharing the Word of God and our interpretation of it.  I have learnt through many personal mistakes, that saying the right thing at the wrong time can create a sore that cannot easily be healed.

Reflecting on Job 16–17, D. A. Carson observes,

There is a way of using theology and theological arguments that wounds rather than heals. This is not the fault of theology and theological arguments; it is the fault of the “miserable comforter” who fastens on an inappropriate fragment of truth, or whose timing is off, or whose attitude is condescending, or whose application is insensitive, or whose true theology is couched in such culture-laden clichés that they grate rather than comfort. In times of extraordinary stress and loss, I have sometimes received great encouragement and wisdom from other believers; I have also sometimes received extraordinary blows from them, without any recognition on their part that that was what they were delivering. Miserable comforters were they all.

Such experiences, of course, drive me to wonder when I have wrongly handled the Word and caused similar pain. It is not that there is never a place for administering the kind of scriptural admonition that rightly induces pain: justified discipline is godly (Heb. 12:5–11). The tragic fact, however, is that when we cause pain by our application of theology to someone else, we naturally assume the pain owes everything to the obtuseness of the other party. It may, it may—but at the very least we ought to examine ourselves, our attitudes, and our arguments very closely lest we simultaneously delude ourselves and oppress others.

–D. A. Carson, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word (vol. 2; Wheaton: Crossway, 1999), entry for February 17. 

This book is available for free as a PDF from TGC.

How I yearn for these values to be cultivated in our lives. Sadly, many of us as followers of Christ have often been drawn into “foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, which are unprofitable and useless”. – (Titus 3:9)

Saved in Order to Do Good

Paul, writing to Titus has this to say….

Titus 3:1 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

Surely, there are more effective ways to “share the gospel” than to charge people with condemnation via provocative Biblical quotations posted openly on social media.