Let us pause together to reflect on this great curiosity, That our God should reach out to humankind with a book, Knowing full well that not everyone will read Or listen to it being read aloud, and that Only a few will ever dig out its treasures.
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 insincere? The coward? The faithless?
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?
In this society, Jesus is immensely popular for various reasons, while also being, hands down, the most misunderstood man in the history of this Earth.
Let me demonstrate for you the following schedule, rough-hewn from my own long-term observations of common religious behavior and sentiment. The first three items are from his deeds, and the fourth, from his demeanor, as popularly understood.
For example, having lost weight, and having felt good about himself as a result, how much may one regain before it is reflected accordingly in the downturn of his self-related emotions?
Indeed, having felt good that he has adopted a higher standard in any matter, how long until he begins to realize his shortcomings with regard to that standard?
After observing humankind for some time, one might opine that for a great many humans, our greater concern in such matters is not the improving of ourselves, after all, but the improving of how we feel about ourselves. That is, it’s not in improving the reality of how we are, but our emotional attitude about it.
It’s as if we were addicted to the feelings of well-being, and willing to ignore or cheat reality, if need be, to keep it going. But there’s something more in play, since the feelings spike early after some perceived success, and wear off from then forward. Still, though, some manner of perception of the success remains―like a high-water mark after a flood. And so many of us, it seems, have a hard time averting our eyes from that mark when the actual waters recede.
The actual water levels were so important when they were on the rise―when we felt we were getting somewhere. But once we’ve peaked, it’s as if we switch over to another method of self-assessment, and it can take a very long time before we come to grips, either with a disappointing plateau, or an outright regression to some lower point.
And how curious this is about us―this bent toward the overestimation of our achievements, status, knowledge, skills, abilities, and performance!
It reminds me of a joke my grandmother would tell the shoe salesman about her shoe size: “I wear a 7, but this 8 feels so good, I think I’ll take a 9.”
Surely, she had worn a 7 at some point in time. But how long had that been, and how long will one cling to how it used to be before admitting how it is now? She was kidding, I think, having realized the humor in this particular human behavior.
Of course, people don’t only cling to what was better before; some cling to what was worse. They tend to gravitate their self-estimation toward the low-water line, even if they are doing better now. And this is just as twisted when viewed from a reality-based view. And if this weren’t enough of a challenge for us, I do believe we can simultaneously hold to different attitudes about the various areas of our lives, overestimating our status in the one thing while underestimating it in the other.
We all would do well, then, it seems to me, to think how life would be different if the refresh rate on our self assessment were higher. How much more quickly might we make corrections to our course if we were checking in with the compass more often?
Why will a people languish While regarding as holy a text They will not take to heart?— A text they will neither study Nor implement as it deserves?— A text they will not learn themselves, Even as they insist that others should do?