This is a Q & A blog post by our Visiting Scholar in Philosophy, William Lane Craig.
Hello Dr. Craig,
My question is: how pragmatic one should be when following biblical teachings?
I want to exemplify this doubt by showing two examples that have made me question a lot of things about my faith, which I consider to be extremely important in my life. I have two very close relatives: one of them is always telling people her moral opinion if she thinks God doesn’t approve what they do and she is always quoting saints in order to convince people. I feel that people get defensive when she comes to them in a “preachy” attitude, which results in them not being persuaded to change at all and her being more isolated. What’s more, it makes me and my family doubt our own faith since we perceive following those “commandments” isn’t making her any happier. She goes to so many religious events that she disattends her obligations and she’s failed several exams. By doing these things, some would say she’s technically following the scriptures.
The other of my relatives is homosexual and is legally married to another woman, something most would say the Bible disapproves, but I see she’s happy and every time I ask her, she tells me she is.
Some would argue that the second case isn’t “real happiness” or “real love” but I find it quite arrogant to tell people who you don’t know at all that you know better than them about how they feel. Others might argue that it isn’t about making one or others’ happier, it just consists on following what the Bible claims, but I feel having that doing something that contradicts your feelings, your reason and your experience just to obey blindly might justify doing anything that’s said to you, like crashing a plane into a building.
Despite all of what I just previously said, I don’t want to “design” a God that just adjusts to my own opinions, so I have quite a dilemma. It causes me angst to both want to obey what is supposed to be God’s will and see that making it can sometimes make people unhappier. I can only find people around me who either don’t believe in Christianity or don’t want to ask themselves questions about some religious questions. I would like to know your opinion on this issue, since you are such an authority both on philosophy and theology.
Dr. Craig’s Response
Thank you for your heartfelt question, Fernando! I do worry, however, about what I perceive to be an undue emphasis on happiness in your question. (Six times you mention happiness.) Earthly happiness is not the goal of the Christian life. “But doesn’t God want us to be happy?” you might ask. No! The goal of life is not happiness but holiness, which will, in turn, have human happiness and fulfilment as a byproduct. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt. 6:33). Our goal should be to be holy, as the Lord is holy.
So with regard to your lesbian family member, I wouldn’t dispute that she is happy. Why would you want to do that? The relevant point, rather, is that she is not pursuing holiness. She is embarked on a lifestyle that God condemns. Your worry “that doing something that contradicts your feelings, your reason and your experience just to obey blindly might justify doing anything that’s said to you” is needless, for no one is advocating blind obedience. Rather we have good reasons to believe that Christianity is true and that God proscribes homosexual activity. Therefore, despite one’s homosexual feelings and experience, reason tells us to obey God rather than our feelings and experience, which are unreliable guides. Feelings and experience might lead someone into pedophilia — or flying airplanes into buildings.
As to the first case of your obnoxious family member, I cannot understand why that would make you “question a lot of things about my faith.” It goes without saying that there are different sorts of personality, and some are socially obtuse. Why should her big mouth make you and your family members “doubt our own faith since we perceive following those ‘commandments’ isn’t making her any happier”? What? Constantly correcting others is commanded by God? I don’t think so! And notice again the undue emphasis on happiness: her obnoxious behavior isn’t making her any happier? So what? If it did make her happy, would it then be all right? Of course not! You say she’s neglecting her obligations. That is by definition sinful and therefore unholy. Why let her unholy behavior cause you to doubt your faith?
Don’t neglect doing God’s will out of an undue emphasis on human happiness, especially your own. But make sure that it is God’s will that you are doing.