God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

Reducing Christian beliefs to nine words is a tricky business

I’m at a stoplight, and the guy ahead of me has a license-plate frame that reads, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” I study the back of his head, gauging it for thickness.

You have to love an attitude like that: so open, so curious, so relentless in its quest for truth and understanding. Here is a soul so determined to make things simple that he can frame his entire belief system around a license plate. Remember those old contests that asked for a reply to a question in “25 words or less”? This guy in the car ahead of me managed to answer all the questions on the planet in just nine words. Plato? Aristotle? Confucius? Dear Abby? Dr. Phil? Dimwits all, compared with the license-plate philosopher in the car ahead.

Imagine a conversation with someone like this. Say whatever you like about any subject under the sun—philosophy, history, cosmology, art or science—and he’s got a pre-thought nine-word reply.

To me, there are so many contradictions built into those nine words that the formulation of that small thought seems almost a miracle in itself. For one thing, I’ve always associated the word “Christian” with the word “humility,” and I’m damned if I can find any humility whatsoever in that little license-plate mantra. Since the word of God can be interpreted in so many ways, it seems that the motorist in front of me is proclaiming an exclusive understanding of the meaning of God’s word.I wonder how he reconciles, for instance, the meaning of the phrase “Thou shalt not kill” with the act of paying taxes to a government that has been quite busy killing people of late. God’s word seems fairly unequivocal on this matter. He does not seem to be saying, “Thou shalt not kill, except under special compelling circumstances.” He does not say, “Thou shalt not kill, except for Iraqi insurgents and Iraqis who get in the way of killing Iraqi insurgents.” He says, quite plainly, “Thou shalt not kill.” Kinda tough getting around the language, and yet we’ve really had no problem ignoring that commandment for a couple of thousand years now.

God himself doesn’t seem consistent on the matter of killing, what with all that smiting and striking down of the iniquitous, as in “God will shatter the heads of his enemies, the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways … you may bathe your feet in blood, so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share” (Psalm 68: 21 and 23). Or, in Psalm 110, it is said that “the Lord … will execute judgment among nations, filling them with corpses.” Or, in Job 9:22-24, God “destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.” Of course, that was Job talking, a guy notorious for his bad attitude. Joshua had a better attitude, but he “utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded,” nonetheless.

Aside from the killing contradictions, there are lots of instructions from God that make automatic belief a bit difficult. Is the matter “settled,” for instance, on the subject of divorce? If the driver ahead of me has married a divorcee, he’s committing adultery, according to Matthew 5:32 and 19:9. And if the man in the car ahead of me loves his closest relatives, he’d better not put it on his résumé. According to Luke 14:26, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters … cannot be my disciple.”

I wonder if the guy with the license-plate frame laments the passing away of slavery from much of the world. In the words of Ephesians 6:5-7, it would appear that God was a supporter of that peculiar institution: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.”

Or, regarding the role of women, I wonder if the driver ahead is settled in the belief that “if there is anything [women] desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home” (1 Corinthians 14:35). Women should “learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2: 11-12).

But, hey, for some people, if God said it, and they believe it, that settles it. What I can’t figure out, though, is what the guy ahead of me is doing with a car. It’s quite clear that he shouldn’t have one. According to Matthew 19:21, the godly way is to “sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor.”

If the driver ahead of me fails to live up to that bit of advice, however, he can regain some Brownie points by proclaiming an anti-environmentalist attitude. Friends of the Earth, Sierra Clubbers and other tree-huggers are almost certainly no friends of God, at least according to James 4:4, where the matter is settled in the following words: “Whoever wishes to become a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

Finally, I wouldn’t want to jaywalk in front of the guy ahead, not if he’s reading the Bible and taking what he reads as literally as his license-plate frame would suggest. If he seeks forgiveness for his failure to get rid of all his stuff and give the money to the poor, he just might heed Hebrews 9:22 and seek salvation by acting on the words found there: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

That settles that.