What would a dishonest soul want the Bible to say?
And how would he twist it to his own satisfaction?
What would the impatient soul glean from its pages
Before he lost interest?
And what treasures would he leave in it undiscovered?
What would the bitter soul find in there,
With which to continue its bitterness?
And what would the cheery dreamer find in it
To prompt or fuel more of the same?
What would be found in it by those
Who block out whatever is scary,
Or by those who who want nothing but?
What would one find if he were the sort
To be convinced it must all be literal
Or if he were the sort to think
It all figurative?
And what would be found by the soul
Who presumed it must all be about
His own life this very day?―
Or the one presuming it must all be
Wholly irrelevant to his life?
What would the soul find
Who thinks it a magic book,
Changing itself to be whatever
He needs in the moment?
And would would it be to the one
Who thinks that because his
Church institution has long understood it,
He need not understand it himself?
What’s to be found in the Bible by the tyrant
Or the scoundrel, who want to
Make use of others?
What by the bully
And the liar?
Or the haughty
Or the crushed?
What for the factious and divisive,
And for the untrusting?
What for the rebel
And the aloof
And the brazen?
What for those who are content
To have a mere form of godliness
That denies the real power of godliness?
What would the hypocrite make of it?
The educated or uneducated?
The wise or the foolish?
And what kind of person are you?
There is no way that our personal dispositions and our strengths and weaknesses don’t play a role in how we interpret and understand the Bible. Even our temporary moods and our situational struggles can play an acute in our Bible interpretation in a given moment, or throughout a protracted season. Our experiences and our upbringing, our education and our worldview, our current load of busy-ness and distraction―these and so many other factors all go into the quality of the work we do when considering the meaning of the texts.
Yet this fact seems to be almost completely forgotten. If we’re like most, we think we know what the Bible means, not because we’ve studied it out and have weighed out the data, but because we think we know what it means. This or that interpretation seems reasonable enough to us, so we think it’s reasonable, even without looking for whatever reasons might be found to interpret it some other way. And we can be so unthinking about it that even when we say “Why not believe it this way?”, what we really mean is “
Why not believe it this way.”
Just the first and second items mentioned in the poem above (dishonesty and impatience) are enough to wreck somebody’s Bible interpretation.
I have so much more to say about this―more than will fit into a single early-morning post. So I’ll leave you with one thought, and with a meme about what I call “Interpretation neglect”. Here’s the thought:
Whatever the Bible says―whatever is its truest meaning―whatever God himself wanted to have been said and written for the record―ask yourself this: What kind of person would want to believe that? Who would want to understand it exactly as it was intended? Who would want to embrace the truth message fully, without cheating or failing at it in any way? What kind of person would be amenable to the fullness of God’s message, and wouldn’t want to twist or spin or ignore or neglect any of it?
That’s the kind of person I want to be. And that’s no easy goal. It’s a very hard thing, indeed.
So here’s one more question: If somebody’s not yet that kind of person in this way or that―and none of us are perfect―aren’t they apt to be making some errors in how they understand the Bible here and there?
Obviously, yes. Yet who among the billions of Christians on this planet has a strong sense of awareness of the high likelihood that their understanding of the Bible is less than perfect? Do not our very institutions try to build in us a confidence that at least the organization (if not the individual) has got it all pretty much figured out correctly?