How exasperating is it, when you are looking for a straight answer, and the reply is “Well, it depends”?
Remember when you were young, and you were doing your best to convince Mom to let you go out with your friends, and her smiling response was conditional on cleaning up your room, doing your chores, or other similar wastes of time to a teenager. Circumstantial evidence are those details that tend to alter the answer, the conclusion, or the decision depending on variables that shift from one circumstance to another.
In Claiming Christ, such details noted in Scripture demonstrated extraordinary power in changing the outcome, and raised the importance for recognizing what Jesus called “the signs of the times”.
In modern legal-eze, circumstantial evidence are facts or observations that are typically deemed unreliable and even unprovable. They don’t tend to provide much solid ground for making a case. However, in biblical terms, such evidence becomes paramount in assessing what the ultimate decision, action, or choice ought to be. Details that are particular to a specific setting or circumstance are often the keys to unlocking the path of wisdom that most stumble past.
Like many astute observers of nature, Nicodemus was admonished by Jesus for being a useful weatherman (Jn 3), but remaining completely inept at assessing the changing details of the circumstances right around him–namely that Jesus was fulfilling everything Scripture prophesied about the promised Messiah.
It is a point of scriptural interpretation, that is often missed, that if a passage or principle within God’s word relates more closely to a specific circumstance, issue, relationship, challenge, etc, then that instruction takes precedence over more general instructions that may appear to differ.
For example: When the Bible says that “love believes all things”, that ought to be viewed as an overall, general inclination; because, when more specifically faced with believing a lie (for example), love ought not be so gullible, for the more closely applicable passage would be something like “be as shrewd as a snake”.
The gentle-Jesus message often prefers to tout the verses that speak of being gentle–which truly are of God. However, when the circumstance involves dealing with conflict (like in Mt 18 or in 1 Cor 5), then turning someone over to Satan, or separating from relationships with those who persist in violating Scripture, would trump gentleness with obedience. This in no way promotes abuse of any kind, but it does require that believers submit to God’s instructions whenever their circumstances more closely fit passages that speak to such moments.
The disciples were directly commanded at one time to take no money or extra coat on their mission trip, but then later were countermanded with the very opposite instruction by the Lord. So which is it? And how do the differing instructions relate to us today? The latter instruction takes precedence because it more closely fits the timing of their circumstance, and thus ours.
As history records with near-endless variety, people can pick-and-choose passages of Scripture to support just about anything they want, but that does not mean that God backs up such misuse of his word. A faithful student will strive to discover which passages most relate to their particular circumstance and submit to that instruction, rather than thumb through the holy book in search of something that appears to condone their selfish inclination.
In the great temptation in the Judean wilderness, Satan tried to quote Scripture to entice Jesus to do something out-of-context, to do things that violated the sign of his time, to try and get him to do ahead of time what he was meant to do. That approach is still employed by many today, be it from church pulpits, or from Christian media, or through well-meaning friends who have little discernment for the things of God as ought to impact that moment. You can easily find a church or book or friend who will pander to your conscience and ease your guilt, but if you want to hear the voice of God, look for passages that relate closer than any others to your particular need or circumstance, and then apply that guidance in faithfulness.
The sad reality is that many have absolutely no intention of submitting their preferences to anything other than what they already find acceptable. They claim to be wise, but their actions prove otherwise. They are unable to hear the truth, in spite of all their religious activity or ministry.
As our Lord professed, “My sheep hear my voice” and follow me. That means that a faithful Christian will carefully tune their ear to hear the subtle shifts of instruction that ought to more closely fit their own shifting circumstances. They will look for the words that speak to their circumstantial evidence.
That kind of carefulness in interpreting and applying the words of God will develop within a believer the sensitivity to recognize the culminating prophesies that announce the glorious return of our Savior. They will hear the call of the Bridegroom, and with oil-filled lamps will rise to meet the Lord.
If you think you can hear, try considering how you respond when a fellow believer points out a potential fault or misuse of Scripture in your life. How you deal with such criticism will speak volumes about how well you deal with circumstantial evidence.