A good friend sent me a blog post by an evangelical pastor, John Bevere, a few days ago in order to get my opinion. What did I think about the content of his post: “Growing Through Unfair Treatment”?
I vehemently disagree with him. In fact, I disagree with him so much that I am here right now explaining my position.
Bevere uses poor exegesis to formulate his thesis by picking two verses from David’s well-known Psalm of repentance: “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51: 16-17) He then begins his post with the following thesis statement based upon these two verses: “A prerequisite for intimacy with the Lord is a broken heart.”
To catch you up on Psalm 51, Nathan the Prophet came to King David after he had Bathsheba’s husband killed in order to claim her for his wife. You see, he was quite taken with her, but she was married. He had a harem full of desirable women, but, oh no, King David had to have this woman. Fix that sticky little problem by whacking her husband! Problem solved. God was angry with David to put it lightly, and, when Nathan made that clear to David, David, being the friend of God that he was, fell apart. Psalm 51 is the result.
So, these particular verses that Bevere is using to support his thesis are, in fact, not about being broken-hearted. They are about true repentance or, a better term, the Hebrew idea of teshuvah, which means ‘to return’ as in to return to God. Combine that notion with another Hebrew idea–kavanah–which means to do something with one’s mind and heart together, and you have a better sense of what these verses mean. God doesn’t want empty acts. He wants the inner man in whatever state it’s in communicating with Him. He wants us to tell the truth, and, in this case, God wanted David to put ritual aside and feel the weight of his actions. King David took advantage of his royal authority, took a human life, and exploited a woman for his own selfish purposes. This violated everything that his covenant with God stood for. No amount of ritual or sacrifice could cover that. In fact, animal sacrifice in biblical Judaism was never meant to cover known sin. Only true repentance and confession could reconcile a person to God. So, 1 John 1: 9 is a very Hebraic notion.
Bevere’s thesis is, therefore, from the beginning, incorrect, and the conclusions that he draws are equally flawed and, frankly, dangerous. The prerequisite for intimacy with God is not a broken heart but instead honesty. What then does Bevere go on to say?
Imagine for a moment who might read these statements? A man or woman in an abusive marriage, or perhaps a man or woman being sexually harassed or exploited by his or her employer for example? Bevere claims that godly authority is, in fact, our employers: “Masters could be employers, teachers, church leaders, or governmental leaders.” He also claims this: “Most of us have had good and gentle leaders, and we loved them. They were easy to submit to.” This is a terribly naïve statement made by a person of privilege living in the West. Talk to any non-white person in a minority group, and they will have at least one story to tell you about being mistreated by an employer. Almost every woman I know, for example, has experienced sexual harassment of some kind on the job. I was fired for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace in my twenties.
What about African-Americans, Jews, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, Asian-Americans, and the like, or just women in general? What about anyone who has experienced LGBT discrimination? How is it Christ-like to simply sit there and take it? Jesus never sat there and took it during his ministry. Bevere simply cannot make the claim that the character of Christ is developed in people who refuse to defend themselves under oppression when the primary message and action of Jesus was that of delivering people from oppression. Furthermore, his most extreme claim that “those who defend themselves come under the jurisdiction and judgment of their accusers and thus forfeit divine intervention” is contrary to biblical teaching. In other words, it disagrees with the Bible itself.
Isaiah 54: 14 says: “With righteousness shall you be established, go far away from oppression, for you shall not fear, and from ruin, for it will not come near you.” The Hebrew verb “go far” is actually an imperative–a command– in the present and future tense at the same time. Hebrew allows for that linguistic nuance. This verse is, therefore, a command to go away from oppression when one finds it. It doesn’t say to tolerate it. It doesn’t say to live under it for the sake of developing character. It says to “go far from it”. And what happens when we go far from oppression? “You shall not fear, and from ruin, for it will not come near you.” When you make a point not to tolerate oppression the results of oppression fall away from you. As if Isaiah had not been clear enough, he made his point clearer when he said: “Any weapon whetted against you shall not succeed, and any tongue that contends with you in judgment, you shall condemn.” Notice that it does not say, “…any tongue that contends with you in judgment, you shall tolerate.” It says to condemn judgment that comes against you. Rise up. Defend. Why? “…this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their due reward from Me, says the Lord.” Our right to empowerment, self-respect, and collaboration with God’s justice is our heritage. We are made in God’s image, and God is a creative God. Yes, He is loving and merciful, but He also made us to defend the powerless and oppressed. If we ourselves are the powerless and oppressed, then how much more are we to act on that mandate?
John Bevere is wrong. His teaching is dangerous because it promotes victimization in the name of God. This teaching is rooted in Gnostic thought. We are indeed supposed to grow through unfair treatment. My life is living proof that it’s possible to do so, but God does not craft our breaking. He is not the author of evil and chaos (1 Cor. 14:33). Our growth and personal development under and after abusive treatment is a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit which is another aspect of the Divine spark within us all.
Can you imagine what the world would look like if we lived our lives as John Bevere suggests? What would South Africa look like now? No Nelson Mandela and no end to Apartheid. What about the civil rights movement in America? No Martin Luther King, Jr and no Rosa Parks. What about the women’s suffrage movement in America? No Elizabeth Cady Stanton. No Harvey Milk. What about Jesus? He certainly did not go quietly into that good night.
Stand up for yourselves. Defend. Fight. For yourselves. For the oppressed.
That is, after all, what Jesus did.