When my kids were little, one of our homeschool lessons was on “red flags.” We talked about what things others might say to get you to do something your parents have told you not to do.
We wrote two examples on small flags made of red construction paper: “No one will know” and “Everybody’s doing it.” We also discussed a few others, including this classic red flag question: “Did your mom or dad really say that? Are you sure? Maybe they actually meant something else.” I stressed that a red flag meant they should stop and think about what they were about to do, and that their parents have given them rules for a reason, even if they don’t understand the reason at the time.
Red flag comments or questions often come from someone who appears to be a friend, or seems wiser or cooler than you are, and/or seems to be having more fun than you are. Through questions or comments like the ones above, they plant some sort of doubt in your mind and encourage you to disobey. This method of sowing seeds of doubt has been ensnaring people, both children and adults, since the beginning of time. Literally.
The very first red flag question in history
The first, and most notorious, act of disobedience in the history of humanity is related in Genesis 3, also known as “the Fall.” Adam and Eve aren’t children, but they are children of God. They are naïve and as yet untested in life. You know the story: God (the Father) had previously forbidden Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they were tempted by Satan to eat from it. They ate, and sin entered the world.
It’s no coincidence that Satan used the same method that people have been falling for throughout history, the method that we still caution our children about today. The serpent came to Eve with a carefully crafted plan to deceive her, and the first step of the plan was to plant a seed of doubt about God in Eve’s mind. In various Bible translations, here is the common red flag question that Satan asked her:
“Did God really say…”
“Can it really be that God has said…”
“Did God actually say…”
“Is it really true that God said…”
[and even just a pointed and skeptical:] “Really?”
Instead of answering, “Yes, really,” and turning away, Eve allows the serpent to plant a seed of doubt. She then unwisely continues talking, unequipped though she is to tangle with the enemy. She tells him what God said, but she gets part of it wrong (God had said to Adam, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” 2:16-17, but Eve has added, “neither shall you touch it,” 3:3). Her willingness to engage in conversation and misstatement of God’s word (for whatever reason) does not go unnoticed by the serpent.
Satan’s next step is to directly contradict God’s truth in an authoritative way: “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (3:4-5) He appeals to Eve’s sense of self-importance and relays the “inside knowledge” that she can be like God. She succumbs, Adam succumbs, and none of this would have happened if Satan had not been able to get his foot in the door in the first place. And he did it with a red flag question that we hear persistently from today’s culture, from our entertainment and the media, from political and educational spheres, from friends and relatives, from some in the church, even—in so many words: “Did God really say … ? Are you sure? Maybe he actually meant something else.”
Red flag questions work so well in causing us to disobey because, first and foremost, they plant a seed of doubt. They cause us to dwell on some aspect of God’s word (his commands, his rules, his laws—all given for our good) that we don’t like. Something he’s told us to do, or not to do, that isn’t convenient or easy for us. Something that bothers us or makes us uncomfortable or takes away our autonomy or makes life less fun.
Where are you most susceptible to this red flag question?
What are those parts of God’s word that you don’t really like? What are the parts that convict you in an uncomfortable way, the parts you don’t want to hear about? The parts that make you think, surely God didn’t really mean that. He must have meant something else, or he must have been speaking only to those people at that particular time in history—not to me here in the 21st century.
Would it be the parts related to:
- Submission and authority?
- Sexuality and gender?
- Humility and pride?
- Self-control and obedience?
- Anger and envy?
- Gossip and a sharp tongue?
- Forgiveness and mercy?
- Generosity and tithing?
- Loving and praying for your enemies?
- Heaven and hell?
Submission and authority were the parts that Eve didn’t like. Given enough time, though, humankind quickly demonstrated a dislike for God’s word regarding every single thing on this list, and then some. As we still do today.
Satan is still looking for easy targets
Eve was an easy target, and Satan got his foot in the door quickly and easily by creating doubt about God’s word and by telling lies about God’s true intentions. It’s scary, yet eerily relatable, how quickly Eve succumbs. She is gullible, open to suggestion, and unsure of what God actually said. (Adam, of course, is silent and completely passive in this situation, which also makes him an easy target—but that’s a whole different article.)
When are we easy targets? When we don’t know God’s word, when we don’t acknowledge and take the time to understand some of those easy-to-skip or easy-to-misinterpret passages, when we find ourselves adding to it, subtracting from it, or misremembering it … those are sure signs that we need to back up and study what God really said. (Jesus also faced Satan’s temptation. It’s worth noting how he responded to it.)
You can easily find what God really said by reading, listening to, or writing out your Bible—daily, if at all possible. A little bit at a time (five or ten minutes, even) is better than leaving it closed day after day. You can find answers to the hard questions on difficult topics by talking to Christians who are a few steps farther along the spiritual path than you are, or who are diligently and prayerfully overcoming similar issues in obedience to God’s word. And you can get insight into the methods used by Satan to crack your spiritual armor with The Screwtape Letters (I love to read this with high schoolers because it’s entertaining, informative, and convicting).
It takes effort (everything that matters takes effort), but you can avoid being an easy target. Your Bible study can and should include addressing the complex issues and learning more about the confusing Bible passages that you don’t like. The more familiar you are, on a daily basis, with God’s word, the more you will understand and remember “what God really said,” and why.
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay
Related post: Letting Go of Bible Reading Expectations