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Terms and Conditions

October 7, 2014

I read an article the other day about a study done by a university research group.  In it they gave several subjects some free software.  As part of the installation process the user was called upon to click on the “Agree” button to the terms and conditions under which the software was given.

The catch was that way down in the fine print, about three pages in, was the clause that said the users agreed to turn over their first-born child to the university to experiment upon.  In spite of this requirement every single recipient of the free software clicked that they agreed.  This could only mean that (a) nobody ever reads the terms and conditions or, less probably, (b) nobody in that group cared all that much about their first-born.

We live in a terms and conditions world.  My wife had a CT scan the other day, one that happily had good results.  Just minutes before the scan she was handed a multi-page consent form to sign.  There was no time allocated to actually read it and, even if she was a speed reader, the language was such convoluted legalese that there was little likelihood she could have grasped all the implications.  It was a “sign or get out” thing.  And it is not only health care professionals that call for our signature on their terms.

We all have clicked “agree” on dozens of terms and conditions for our computers.  Auto mechanics, repair and service firms, contractors, etc. all require them.  Just yesterday I received notice that I had not returned a book to the library.  Since the book was one of four I took out and returned all of them at the same time, it was unlikely I failed to return it.  But, as it turned out, the terms and conditions that I signed when I applied for a library card made me absolutely responsible, no exceptions, so I was stuck.

Sometimes I think we consider the Bible God’s terms and conditions.  We read it almost like the legalese of Apple or Microsoft or whoever, seeking to discern the exact instructions in this or that verse tucked away in Zephaniah or somewhere.  Whole Bible studies are built around “digging deeper” and seeking the “true” meaning of each verse.  While I believe the Bible to be true and I enjoy studying it there are some very real reasons that this “terms and conditions” view of Scripture feels wrong.

  • First, it is a type of study that can only be done by highly literate people with access to extensive resources. For the first 1,800 years or so and in half the world today it was not, and is not, possible to read the Bible this way.
  • Second, this method of understanding the Bible has produced more dissention than harmony. Most of our disputes center on issues that only come up when we read it this way.
  • Third, this leads to the idea of salvation by correct theology, and idea that makes us fear that there will be an extensive entrance exam at the gates of heaven.
  • Finally, while corporate terms and conditions are self-protective and self-serving, I can’t imagine a loving God who would slip hidden “gotcha” clauses into his Word.

I am thankful for the grace of God that calls us to know and love him, not study his terms and conditions.

From → Christianity

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