One of the primary questions that must be considered and addressed when reading scripture is determining if God is a restricting or freeing God? The answer to this question will impact one’s interpretations of scripture as well as one’s basic understanding of who God is in tremendous ways.
My assumption (although I could be wrong) is that most people never, or at the very least rarely, consider this question. In many ways it seems like an unnecessary step in biblical interpretation. The Bible is a book that reveals who God is and the best way to understand it is to try, as best one can, to read the scriptures with no preconceived ideas. If the Bible reveals who God is, than we gain our understanding of God through reading the book. To make a determination about God before even reading the book seems counter productive, and even wrong. Yet, I would argue that the answer to this question about the nature of God is impacting how we read scripture whether we know or admit that it is happening or not. Thus it is important to determine how we feel about God so that we can make informed interpretations.
Those who see God as a restricting God often view scripture and God through the lens of law. God has, in the Bible, informed us as humans what to do and what not to do to please God. As Christians, we should approach scripture to find the commands or examples of how we are to live in the world. It is in following these commands that one gains life and pleases God. If scripture does not specifically endorse a particular or controversial action, it is probably best to avoid the action in order to be safe. It should be noted that as a whole, people with this understanding have a very high view of scripture and a deep love and admiration for God.
Those who see God as a freeing God view scripture through the lens of grace. God is inviting us into relationship and scripture shares God’s love for the people. As Christians, we should approach scripture to discover the type of person we should be in this world. Scripture reveals principles that help us to determine how we are to live today, and it is through love and mercy that we please God. If scripture does not specifically condemn a particular or controversial action, and it does not violate God’s character, then Christians are free to participate in such action or behavior. It should be noted that as a whole, people with this understanding have a very high view of scripture and a deep love and admiration for God.
This basic understanding, of whether God is restricting or freeing, impacts how we interpret scripture.
Consider the issue of divorce and remarriage. If God is restricting, then if someone has been divorced there are very few instances in which one is free to remarry without sinning. Outside of instances of adultery, there is little hope for remarriage. However, if God is freeing, then God desires for God’s people to experience abundant life, and while God hates divorce and the marriage commitment should be held in high honor, God recognizes that mistakes happen and one mistake does not condemn someone to a lifetime of celibacy.
Consider the issue of women actively participating in church assemblies. If God is restricting, than passages such as 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, even though they are at times confusing, must relegate women to non verbal participation in assemblies. But if God is freeing, then instances of women in leadership positions in scripture, such as Debra or Phoebe, at a time when women didn’t have as many rights, means that now women who have more rights should have more opportunities to use their gifts for the betterment of the community.
There are many more examples that could be given, but hopefully these will help to define the differences in the options for the question.
So, is God a restricting God or a freeing God?
The more I read scripture the more I come to understand God as a freeing God. God desires for disciples to live abundant life. God gave rules, but those rules are for the sake of living a long life in the land, not to keep us in line. And those rules, even in scripture, are often trumped by God’s desire for mercy and sacrifice. When reading scripture, instead of trying to find the rules, commands, and examples to help determine what not to do, search for a God who is freeing you to experience abundant life. In scripture, find a God who wants you to experience life everlasting, even now. Still living a life of righteousness, but also experiencing freedom.