Relationships are more important than winning arguments. Seaside Story, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Light in the Box.

In our family, we have lively discussions about everything, and because we love one another, we don’t let disagreements get in the way. This is fortunate, because if we did, we would all be living in separate houses.

No, it’s not as bad as all that. Some of us enjoy watching Pride and Prejudice over and over again, while others — strange as this, and they, may seem — do not. But we continue to love these “others” anyway.

On larger topics, like God, Christ, and the Bible, we again exert independence of thought, which each one of us is fully willing and capable of expressing. I call it philosophizing around the dining room table, and it is, because we are truly not arguing. All of us realize that none of what we are talking about can be incontrovertibly proven, and valid questions without answers deserved to be looked at and discussed.

Like this:

Did the parting of the Red Sea actually happen the way it is written, you know, in a miraculous fashion? Or is there a natural explanation that fits into “real life”? And if so, is this still a miracle?

Literal, Symbolic, and in Between

Me — I’m fine with the wall of water on the right and the wall of water on the left and dry land in between — pretty much just the way it’s written. But then again, I have a B.A. in English, which means that I have sat through hours of interpretive analysis of symbolism in what frequently looks to be straightforward text. I will never forget my professor’s lecture on the “train scene” in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. Naively, I accepted that Carrie had dreamed about a train, but 20 minutes of lecture explored the possibility of the dream representing the loss of the main character’s virginity.

However the Red Sea was parted, the Israelites made it through safely, and their Egyptian pursuers did not. Whitewater, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Fair enough and food for thought. The main thing I learned from my English degree is that, if you’re looking for it, you can find anything you want in any text you touch. The second thing I learned is that you can make a compelling argument for various interpretations and still remain on speaking terms.

So it is with the Bible — you can seek for symbolism, and there is a lot of that in there, or you can read the surface statement of the text, or you can accept a fusion of the two. Complex and complicated at the same time it can be simple and straightforward, the Bible is a book of truth, and when you read it, you will find truth. And because it is a book of Deep Truth, spanning time and distance and understanding, you will not grasp 100 percent of that truth, and the conclusions you reach will differ, significantly or not, from the conclusions that other people reach.

Room for Different Views

This is why we have so many denominations within Christianity. Some of us believe that the wall of water was literally on the right and left; others do not. We differ on what days to worship, which food to avoid, the style of dress, the traditions we employ, all based upon our interpretation of the text.

But because we are a family, we love one another — which is one of the crucial elements of the text upon which we can agree, symbolism free, and we do not let our philosophizing turn into a shouting match. Whether you are “right” or “wrong,” you’ll never yell someone into the Kingdom of God.

“Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” (1 John 4:7)

Love First, Discussion Next

No matter how you parse this, it’s a fairly straightforward sentence. If you want to analyze what it means to “love one another,” just think about your family, from the people  you besottedly adore to the ones you tolerate, teeth clenched, because by God they’re part of your tribe:

You don’t push your beliefs so forcefully and insensitively that you damage the relationship.

As children of God, Christians can agree on one major, central Person: Jesus Christ. Let us start from there, be free to have lively discussions, and leave the table still loving one another, because ” . . . if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

The world hates us, my friends, and would like nothing better than to see us hate one another as well. Let us agree to disagree on the small, and even the bigger than small, things, and pull together as a family so that we can show the world, tangibly, just what love looks like.

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