The Bible has so many imperfect people. And as Christians who have received the redemption salvific work of Christ, we often feel tempted to point fingers and laugh at those in the Bible who make mistake after mistake. But are there certain people in the Bible who we give way too hard a time? And if so, why should we view them through a lens of grace instead?
Let's dive into the people in the Bible we give too hard a time. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it does bring to light several people who end up as butts of jokes in the church.
Otherwise known as "doubting Thomas," he really should not have earned this name. In fact, if anything, Thomas' example encourages us to seek out the truth via all means possible.
For those not familiar with Thomas' story, Thomas was one of the 12 disciples chosen by Jesus. When Jesus died and resurrected, Thomas didn't believe at first. He wanted evidence. Evidence appeared to him in the form of Jesus showing up. From there, Thomas believed and later ended up martyred for Christ's sake.
We often give Thomas a hard time because he didn't blindly believe in the resurrection. Yes, many friends had served as eyewitnesses to Jesus, but he needed more solid evidence. We ought to give Thomas a lot more grace for wanting to witness the miracle with his own eyes (John 20).
We know Naomi as the mother-in-law of Ruth in the Book of Ruth (Ruth 1). She experiences an immense tragedy. Her sons and her husband perish at one fell swoop. For a woman of her age, not only did she lose everyone in her immediate family, but she had no hope of working for her own food. Women had little agency in the ancient world.
So when she changes her name to mean "bitter," she does so because of the hurt she feels. People can often view Naomi as someone who complains all the time and has Ruth do the work for her. But Naomi plays a pivotal role in Ruth's story. When she learns about the fact that Ruth has met someone called her kinsman-redeemer, she helps to orchestrate how Ruth will approach this man with a marriage proposal.
Because of her actions, Boaz accepts the proposal, and the line of Ruth goes all the way to Jesus. We ought to give Naomi more grace for her tears and bitterness.
When you read the Book of Jonah, you cannot help but laugh at Jonah's dramatic antics. He flees in the opposite direction from where God calls him, gets shipped in a large fish to the enemy lines, preaches their destruction, and gets mad at God when God doesn't send fiery rain upon Nineveh.
But for all of Jonah's stubbornness and national pride that gets in the way of his calling, I think we need to remember one important detail. He wrote his own book. And Jonah paints himself in a very bad light in the book. We have to come to the conclusion that he probably experienced some humility and repentance after the events of Nineveh and before he wrote down the Book of Jonah.
In the Book of Ruth, we discover that Naomi has a second daughter-in-law (Ruth 1) named Orpah. Like Ruth, she insists at first that she will go with Naomi to a foreign land with a foreign God she does not worship.
Naomi insists three times that Orpah and Ruth leave her. After the third time, Orpah wails but returns to her own country to find a new husband and start a new life.
People can often paint Orpah as a villain in the story. That she didn't stick it out with Naomi, and instead, cowardly went back to her own home. But as stated in the Bible Study Tools article linked, Orpah didn't know Yahweh. She didn't have the hope that everything would turn out all right in the end. And for a woman in her time, she had little agency. She knew she would live a life of poverty with Naomi if she didn't find a husband. So she made the practical choice.
Therefore, we should give Orpah more grace for her decisions. We likely would have done the same.
Like Thomas, we don't remember Peter for his martyrdom (crucifixion upsidedown, according to tradition), or his discipleship with Jesus. Instead, we remember him for what he did on the night of Jesus' trial. He denies ever knowing Jesus three times (Luke 22).
Now, I don't want to justify Peter's action that Jesus had foretold. The Bible makes it clear that we should not be ashamed of the Gospel, nor should we deny Christ. But we do have to understand why Peter did it. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus' disciples fled. They most likely believed they would receive the death penalty for following Jesus all these years. So when someone confronts Peter in the courtyard, he saves his own skin.
We also have to keep in mind that this cowardly version of Peter doesn't last forever. He goes on to spread the Gospel and receives a horrible death. So in some ways, the death he tried to avoid in the courtyard came to him in one way or another. But if we really exercise honesty with ourselves, we would not have done any differently.
Why Does This Matter?
We often tear others down to feel better about ourselves. And when we read the Bible, we learn that God has used broken people since the beginning of time, to usher in his glory. We may feel tempted to point fingers and laugh. But these people serve as a great reflection for our own lives. How often do we doubt, deny, grow bitter, choose the more practical path, act selfishly, etc.?
When we read Scripture, we should read ourselves into the imperfect people we meet. Only then can we realize our great need for repentance and a Savior.
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Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,200 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy is out with IlluminateYA. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.