is anyone really open-minded? Acts 17

read Acts 17.  We all like to think of ourselves as being open-minded.  In today’s Western world to call someone close-minded is tantamount to calling them a bigot.  But how many of us are truly open-minded?  How many of us are really willing to listen to new ideas that challenge everything we know, feel and think about the world?  We THINK we are.  But are we?  What if the person challenging us is abrasive?  Can we listen then?  And if we passed that test, here’s another even ouchier one:  are we all that open-minded when people criticize us?  Or would we secretly rather all be like General Petraeus – having our biographies written by someone favorably disposed toward us – preferably someone we’ve been courting?

As usual, the Bible’s stance on being open-minded is nuanced.  God wants us to be open-minded to His message of love.  He begs us to open our ears to hear how much He loves us.  He is grieved when we are so hard hearted we can’t listen to His message of mercy.  We sadden Him when we are sure we know best, or hell-bent on being bitter and pessimistic.  “Cynics look high and low for wisdom – and never find it; the open-minded find it right on their doorstep!”  Proverbs 14:6 (The Message).

What the open-minded find on their doorsteps, according to the Bible, is joy and peace.  In the 17th chapter of Acts we are told that the people of Berea were “more open-minded” than those of Thessalonica.  So they “listened eagerly” to Paul’s message.  They “searched the Scriptures day after day to see if” Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.  And “as a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.”  Acts 17:11-12 (emphasis added).  The claim is astounding.  The chapter suggests that a mind that is willing to listen “eagerly” and daily “search” the Bible WILL find him or herself believing in Jesus.  Why?  As one of my friends says who tried every kind of spirituality with a small s before becoming a Christian – only Jesus works.  God, unlike most of the rest of us, loves wisdom seekers.  He knows that if they’re truly open-minded they will end up with the love they’ve always wanted – through a relationship with Him.

But the same chapter also points out that people can be so open-minded they’re closed to truth.  They can make a “god” out of having an open mind.  Their absolute truth becomes that only a “new” idea should be believed.  Paul says the first century Athenians spent “all their time discussing the latest ideas.”  Acts 17:21.  The problem with this attitude is that if your “god” is listening to the latest ideas, you’re going to miss it when one of those ideas hits the mark.  So one must be open-minded but to a point.  There has to be a “there” there.  Somewhere there IS truth.  For no matter how trendy it is to mock absolute truth, absolute truth is unavoidable.  In trying to assert there IS no absolute truth, even the mockers have made an absolute truth claim without realizing it.

The chapter also points out the danger to truth seekers of making excuses.  We become close-minded when we worry that an idea will cause us to betray one of our current beliefs.  Why?  Because we build our identity on our beliefs, so that if someone challenges one we feel as if our very selves will crumble – so we reject the new belief, even if our current one was never based on many facts or much thought in the first place.  The chapter suggests, however, that refusing to listen to an idea because just listening might “betray” something such as Caesar – is really an excuse.  Sometimes such a refusal stems purely from jealousy.

So how do we retain the balance between listening to new ideas but honing in on the right ones?  How do we reach a place where our identity isn’t predicated on our beliefs, so that if someone challenges them we can listen with humility?  How do we make an absolute value out of humility – which is, as far as I can tell, the only way to truly be open-minded?

It turns out that General Betrayus was onto something.  There is a way to be so humble we are willing to listen with respect to everyone we meet.  The solution is to realize that we CAN have our biographies written by someone who adores us.  The good news is that we don’t need to betray anyone to do it.

Here’s what I mean.  Our biographies unplugged would reveal our every flaw. Our biographies would be full of not just our light, but also our darkness, our mistakes, our selfishness, our pride and our moments of downright evil.  Our unvarnished biographies would make us each want to crawl under a rock with shame – forever.  The prospect of having an unvarnished biography published would be enough to tempt many of us to court our biographers.

But Jesus came down to rewrite our storyline by courting us.  He came down to have a love affair with each of us.  He offers to us the gift of exchanging His biography for our own.  If we accept that we need Jesus’ help, God sees Jesus’ story when He looks at us.  God sees Jesus’ perfection.  Our biographies become as white-washed as General Petraus’. They are white-washed with Christ’s love.  All we have to do is humble ourselves enough to accept we need white-washing.  It’s really that simple – and that impossible.

Because somehow to get true humility we need to be humble.  How do we become open-minded enough to hear we need God’s help?  The secret lies in accepting that God loves us.  When others criticize us they usually do so without love.  Unloving criticism is hard, if not impossible, to hear.  When someone attacks us in a harsh, hard and jarring voice, we somehow sense the person they’re really attacking is themselves.  But when someone lovingly points out our flaws without pretending to be perfect themselves we can hear it.  We stay open-minded to that kind of humble truth.  So the more we begin to realize God ADORES us, the more willing we are to hear what He has to say about our poor choices.

And that’s when the magic happens.  The moment we accept we’re imperfect people in need of the cross – God sees us as perfect.  That’s the good news of Jesus Christ.  It’s our news become good.

Here’s another way to look at it: when Jesus Christ was carrying the cross toward His death, He might have been tempted to give up.  But as He stumbled, He thought.  “No!  I have to keep going.  Caroline needs me.”  He shouldered His burden once more and kept going.

He did the same for you.

On that walk to His death, Jesus stayed true to His course because He remembered every one of us.

After all, Jesus is God.  He is the light of the world.  Jesus is the One who entered our world when the Spirit brooded over the face of the deep and God cried out in a loud triumphant voice: LET THERE BE LIGHT.  Let there be Jesus.  Jesus has been here giving light to our world since its foundation.  He knows us each by name.  And He died for each of us to open heaven to us.  That’s the truth that humbles us, enriches us and enlivens us.  It’s the truth that allows us to remain open-minded to everyone we meet, and listen to them with respect – knowing they’re just as flawed as we are, just as in need of God’s saving love, and just as loved.

It’s the truth that allows us to be humble and yet lifted up to all of Christ’s glory – if only we can be open-minded enough to believe God actually really truly loves us.

posted by Caroline Coleman in on November 30, 2012 in “A Chapter a Day”