Thought for the Day by Toby Parsons (All Hallows)
The devil’s in the detail?
There’s a lot to like in today’s passage from Paul’s first letter to Timothy!
Verse 4 is a beautiful reminder that everything God created is good, whilst verse 12 will have sustained many youthfully exuberant Christians over the years, with its affirmation of being young. And if you’re feeling the need for a quick dose of encouragement and a reminder of God’s ultimate promise, verse 10 isn’t a bad place to turn.
And yet, if we just reach for a certain verse or passage, do we fall into the trap of selectively quoting scripture? Of not looking at the wider context?
Specific verses from the Bible are often thrown at other people in an attempt to justify a particular view. We may have heard assertions that Leviticus 18 is the final word on sexuality. We might even find people quoting from just two chapters after today’s passage to show that slavery is acceptable.
How do we respond to such arguments? And how do we check that we’re not doing it too?
I wonder if it’s similar to some of the current debates about the changing rules regarding coronavirus and meeting people?
We might be tempted to focus exclusively on the detail. Would it be OK to walk along Woodhouse Ridge with someone from another household? Would a discussion involving seven volunteers from Rainbow Junktion count as a work meeting? How about going round to the house of an older friend from church, to help them fix a computer problem?
We don’t have to say that the detail is irrelevant to acknowledge that the bigger picture matters more.
Limiting the number of people we come into close contact with is the simple principle behind reducing the risk of coronavirus (whilst of course still thinking about other factors such as mental health and caring responsibilities). The various rules and guidance are important because they feed into that bigger picture, not for their own sake.
And we know that God, who has created all things, is pure and unlimited love. The encouragement, patience and forgiveness that we’re offered through Jesus are the big picture. The detail flows from it, and is subservient to it.
Why, then, do we struggle to embrace the big picture, whether in coronavirus or Christianity?
Perhaps the overarching message just seems overwhelming? The painful reality of the pandemic continuing well into 2021 is hard to accept, and sometimes the detail can act as a distraction from that. And the reality of God’s love, which turns upside down how we view and interact with the world, is even more immense – even if it’s wonderful!
There are times, particularly at the moment, when we need a quick boost – a top up of 1 Timothy 4 to lift our mood! And that’s OK, because it feeds into the bigger picture. But we should heed Paul’s warning not to be deceived – not to be distracted from the big picture by arguments over the detail, nor to be dominated by it.
Because God shows us love that is far beyond anything we can put into words. Because she’s certainly not constrained by the human love of detail.