I've been reading the answers on your web site and finding them helpful. However, with regard to vows I am not sure where I stand, even after reading some of your answers. Many years ago I was caught in some very sinful behavior that ultimately landed me in prison for a few months. While I was involved in this sinful behavior, I felt so bad about what I was doing and wanted to stop it so badly, that I made a promise (to God, or to myself, not really sure who I was aiming this at) that I would cut off my hand if I did it again. Well, I eventually did it again (and again...) until my sin was exposed, and its exposure finally broke the power it had over me and I have not done it again since then. But I haven't cut off my hand.
Jesus talks about cutting off one's hand or plucking out an eye, but was he being literal there? If your eye causes you to sin (lusting after pretty girls?) will plucking one of them out stop you from lusting? You still have the other eye with which to appreciate beautiful ladies! Even if you pluck both eyes out, would that prevent you from lusting? Lusting is something done in the mind, with one's thoughts. So what do I do about my words from years ago that I would cut off my hand?
One of your other answers on this topic includes this verse: "If a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth" (Numbers 30:2). I feel condemned by this verse, because it seems to require me to mutilate my own body. My vow was an expression of my desire to break free from this sinful behavior, not that I actually wanted to lose a hand. Would God not know my thoughts and be merciful? Even us mere humans sometimes hear friends or loved ones in pain or distress say things we know they don't really mean, but know those words are borne out of the misery of their present situation, and we don't hold them to it but forgive them for it. Surely God would do likewise for us?
There is also this scripture, which gives me some hope: Proverbs 6:1-5 "My son, if you have put up security for your neighbor, if you have struck hands in pledge for another, if you have been trapped by what you said, ensnared by the words of your mouth, then do this, my son, to free yourself, since you have fallen into your neighbor's hands: Go and humble yourself; press your plea with your neighbor! Allow no sleep to your eyes, no slumber to your eyelids. Free yourself, like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the snare of the fowler." Will God forgive a foolish vow if I ask him earnestly enough? Or is the way of salvation closed to me unless I fulfill this foolish vow first?
While we're on the subject of vows, could you answer this question for me too: There's the story (Judges 11:30-40) of a man who made a vow to dedicate to the Lord the first thing to come out of his house upon his return, if the Lord would grant him success in battle. Well, the Lord granted him success, but the first thing out of his house upon his return was his daughter - an only child. He allowed her to roam the hills for two months to grieve with her friends, and then he sacrificed her. My question about this is: Why did God not speak up in this situation? The man's vow now required him to violate one of the 10 commandments (thou shalt not kill) and involved the destruction of an innocent person who had nothing to do with the vow. Why should she pay the ultimate price for her father's foolish vow? And why did he make this particular vow in the first place? Was he fed up with his wife and secretly hoping that his wife would be the first to greet him upon his return? This passage seems to suggest that to get a free pass to kill someone you don't like, all you need to do is to make a vow involving that person in some way, and then God will apparently want you to go through with it and harm that person. How can a vow trump the 10 commandments? When Jesus was asked about which is the greatest commandment, he said nothing about keeping vows.
Thank you in advance for your thoughts on these two questions.
Let's start with the second question, since it is asked frequently. The story does not say Jephthah's daughter was killed, only that she was offered as a sacrifice. People too often assume that all burnt offerings involved killing, but that is not true. See: Jephthah's Daughter.
Self-mutilation is wrong.
- "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church" (Ephesians 5:29).
- "The merciful man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh" (Proverbs 11:17).
Our bodies belong to God and are to be used to honor God. "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
When Jesus said, "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell" (Matthew 18:8-9), he was speaking figuratively. We know this because a literal reading would have Jesus contradicting God's Word, which he did not do. The type of figurative speech is called hyperbole -- speaking in the extreme. The point is that hell is so horrible that we should go to every length possible to avoid going to hell.
In regards to your vow, there are two things wrong:
- You vowed to not do something that you were already required by God not to do. You vow had no meaning because it did not make God's command any more applicable to you than it already was. In fact, by attempting to vow to keep God's commands, you are putting yourself above God. In a sense you are saying you only keep commands that you think are important.
- You vowed to violate God's law if you broke your vow. It is not acceptable to God to receive something that is sinful from men. Besides, "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (I John 3:9). To vow to sin if you sin violates this command that Christians avoid sin.
In other words, you sinned in making the vow, thus, it is an invalid vow from the very start. Apologize to God for your foolish words and move on with your life. You should always be earnest in your prayers, but Proverbs 6:1-5 is not the right passage for this. It is about not cosigning loans for people. Salvation is never closed off to anyone who is willing to repent of his sins. "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). You are included in that "any."