Burdensome biblical contradictions?

I sometimes wonder if believing in the divine inspiration and infallibility of Scripture causes some Christians to become blind to the many obvious contradictions they must come across in reading the Bible. While I am as resolutely convinced as ever of the authority and reliability of the Good Book from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21,  frequently I find fresh instances of conflicting statements, and I approach these enigmas with the scientific spirit of exploration I was taught in school.

For instance: it is an accepted law of physics that all materials contract in volume as their temperature drops, including water; yet, as it approaches zero degrees Celsius, water expands to form ice that floats to the surface. In his wisdom, the Creator designed it this way; it preserves pond life during severe winter conditions.

Let’s consider a series of anomalous statements about what to do with burdens.

  • Psalm 55:22 invites you to ‘cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.’ If you practise what this text exhorts you to do, you will sense that you have anchored in a peaceful and safe harbour – before you face the storm …
  • Your peace will be disturbed if you then go to Galatians 6:5 and find that ‘the Lord’ on whom you just ‘cast your burden’ hands it straight back to you: ‘For each will have to bear his own load.’ The word ‘load’ (Greek phortion) is translated ‘burden’ in many places (and here in the King James Version).
  • And to add further weight of responsibility onto your tired soul, a few verses earlier he exhorted us: ‘Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). While ‘phortion is simply something to be borne, without reference to its weight, baros [used here] always suggests what is heavy or burdensome’, according to W E Vine. It was puzzling enough to face the disagreement between the counsel of (a) Old and (b) New Testament, only to find the clash of two texts, (b) and (c), in the same paragraph!
  • So, you run to Jesus in your confusion only to find that he presents the same problem in another short paragraph. No sooner has he invited you to ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ than he insists that you ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, and you will find rest for your souls. For … my burden [phortion] is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).

Actually, all four of these authoritative texts are different dimensions of the Christian life, a life not to be lived on a flat two-dimensional plane. Psalm 55:22 in its Hebrew text tells you to ‘cast your lot’ – your God-allotted situation – ‘on the Lord’. In the Greek translation (LXX) it becomes ‘your anxious care’ (merimna); counsel repeated in 1 Peter 5:5: ‘Casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.’ 

Joy Dawson advised a young wife in Los Angeles with a chronically restricted throat ‘to Psalm 37:5 it’ (compare Psalm 55:22). Joy knew nothing of Cathy’s worries until she returned two days later in fine fettle. She had spent an entire day writing one worry at a time with her finger on a cushion, throwing it to where she pictured Jesus sitting, and refusing to take any anxiety back once she’d given it to him. Her main concern was about her husband’s business. When he saw the change in his wife’s state he started to do the same, especially his frustration with the business partnership. Next day his partner unexpectedly begged to be released, offering him half its cash value!

* The other three texts are ‘a walk in the park’ once (a), Psalm 55:22, is solved!

When you practise (c), Galatians 6:5, sing: ‘It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Brother’s’!

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