I talk about the Bible a lot. So, it stands to reason that I also hear people talk about the Bible a lot as well. One of the phrases I hear often in such settings is some variant of the following:
“I just believe the Bible.”
“I’m just telling you what the Bible says.”
Statements such as these imply that our personal opinions, context, background, worldview and all such things are divorced from our reading of the Bible. We approach the Scripture without bias or presupposition, and objectively make pronouncements about the meanings of the text.
The issue with this is simple: That is not possible!
We are human beings. We live in a particular context, have a particular worldview, and that colors our interpretation of the Bible.
And let’s be even more honest, we are all interpreting the Bible. There is no divine manual of interpretation that fell from the sky that gives us a clear ‘this is what it means’. We all interpret the Bible, and that interpretation is an opinion. This opinion may be shared by some [and not by others], but that doesn’t make it less of an opinion.
To claim that we somehow stand above the fray and offer an unbiased, unopinionated interpretation just isn’t accurate. Or honest. That claim is seeking unquestioned authority and obedience to our interpretations. And, some opinions/interpretations are better than others. Some are more true to the text. But they are still interpretations.
That’s the key, actually. The Bible must be interpreted. We wrestle with what the Bible means–when it was written and now–because we want to live as true to the vision and way that are set out there as we possibly can.
But let’s be honest, none of us approaches the Bible as a clean, objective slate. We bring our experiences, our views, what we’ve heard or been taught…we bring a mixed bag of bias and opinions that make us anything but completely objective.
There is much wisdom in these words from Thomas Talbott, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Willamette University:
“We don’t read the Bible the way it is; we read the Bible the way we are.”
He is not disputing the claim that there is truth to be discovered, or that some readings of the text aren’t better or more accurate than others. He is disputing the idea that we can just tell people ‘what the Bible says’ without making interpretations, which are filtered through our views, opinions, and ideas.
This wrestling with the text and its meaning is one of the things I love about the Bible and being in community with others. The Bible, though more, is not less than an invitation to carry on an ancient conversation about the things that matter most.
Immerse your life in it.
But let’s not assume we somehow offer an unbiased interpretation.
Just the other day on the wild and wonderful world of Twitter, Rainn Wilson [Dwight of 'The Office' fame] posted the following tweet:
What do we want!? Justice!! When do we want- Oh look Anthropologie’s having a sale!!
I think this tweet is an insightful critique of where we find ourselves in the 21st century. Thanks to smart phones and social media we are more hyper-connected than ever before. We are more aware of what is happening in the world. When there’s violence in Egypt, we can follow it in ‘real time,’ instead of waiting for tomorrow’s paper.
And, inevitably, certain things inspire a swell of empathy, sympathy, and compassion from us. We are moved by a cause, by an injustice, by some darkness that needs to be dragged out into the light. The problem, however, is that we don’t stay focused on the issue long enough to bring real, lasting change.
We want justice…but our desire for justice is trumped by the latest sale, or Kardashian news, and what had our attention for 15 minutes or so is now old news, another fad that couldn’t survive our over-indulged, over-blown appetites.
And I’m not talking about you. Or the Kardashians.
I’m talking about me–about my own habits and tendencies to be taken off track by the smallest things.
To see real, measurable, and lasting change in the world–for the poor, the oppressed, those on the underside of the wealth and power of the world–we must commit to it. Not a flaky, fly-by-night commitment, but a real, intentional commitment that actually costs us.
A commitment that demands much of us, not just our fleeting notice.
Rainn’s tweet beautifully critiques our present situation, but it also calls us to be more. I don’t want to be the kind of person who moves from cause to cause due to the fact that I don’t have the wherewithal to actually give my blood, sweat, and tears to something that matters.
I don’t want injustice to win because Anthropologie has a sale. And I bet you don’t either. So, we must choose.
Awareness over ignorance.
Engagement over indifference.
Intention over randomness.
So, thanks for the tweet, Rainn. We need to be reminded of what matters most.
In his book, The God We Never Knew, Marcus Borg says the following:
“Our images of God matter. Just as how we conceptualize God affects what we think the Christian life is about, so do our images of God.
Ideas (which include both concepts and images) are like families: they have relationships. How we image God shapes not only what we think God is like but also what we think the Christian life is about.
The point Borg is making here is so crucial, and I don’t think we understand how important, how totally life shaping, our image of God can be.
If our image of God is hostile–vindictive, vengeful, looking for any reason to condemn us to an eternity of suffering–then it is more than likely that we will begin to embody hostility toward others. Our judgments will be swift and harsh. Those we deem as ‘outsiders’ become targets of our vitriol and anger. We become hostile, we conform to the image of God that we hold.
So too, if our God is indifferent–not angry, not vindictive, just absent–then that will form a particular identity in us. If God doesn’t care, why should we? If God turns a blind eye to the need and suffering of the world, why shouldn’t we join him? If God doesn’t have our back [so to speak] then why shouldn’t we put ourselves first, get all we can, take care of our own needs first, maybe even at the expense of others. When our image of God is one that is distant, detached, remote, then we come to embody these same characteristics in the most selfish ways imaginable.
But, if our God is generous, compassionate, merciful, kind, and good–in a word, Love–then those things will come to permeate our lives, just as the hostility and indifference of those other images do. This is the image of God Jesus lived with and lived through. Notice how Jesus views God, and in turn, how he is calling us to allow this view to shape us as well:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. [Luke 6v36, NIV]
Jesus’ God is merciful. That same word can be translated as ‘compassionate’ as well. God, for Jesus is compassionate. He isn’t hostile toward us, or indifferent. He is compassionate. He suffers with us. He meets us, weeps with us, embraces us. And Jesus’ expectation for his followers, then and now, is that we would take this compassion and mercy which we’ve been so graciously given and give it to others.
Our images of God matter, because [as Rob Bell says] ‘we shape our God and our God shapes us’. What we believe about God becomes the lens, the filter through which we see and engage the world.
How do you view God? Have you thought about the image of God you have? Does it make you a better neighbor for the world, or worse?
The truth is not all images for God are equal. Not all are good. Some images of God need to be resisted and rejected, and some are so beautiful that they compel us to embrace them, or better, to be embraced by them.
Drum roll please.
Um, drum roll?
According to a new Gallup report Kentucky clocks in at #3 in the ’5 Most Stressed States’ category. From the article:
“In Kentucky, 44.8 percent of residents said that they felt stressed yesterday.” Read the full article here.
Why are we so stressed?
And is there anything we can do about it?
I’m sure there are a plethora of reasons behind our stress, and I in no way want to offer a blanket statement that somehow minimizes the seriousness of our stress, or the reasons behind why we experience the stress that we do.
However, in my own life, I have noticed a pattern. The more I ‘burn the candle at both ends’ [as my momma says], the more fatigued I become. The more fatigued I become, the more likely it is that I will experience an increased amount of stress…and not just over the ‘big’ things. Often, in a state of fatigue and exhaustion, I find myself stressing over small, even insignificant situations.
Stress is cumulative.
It isn’t just the present situation that gets us…
It’s the deluge of the past five, ten, twelve…you get the picture.
And, while it won’t solve everything, I have learned the importance of
and making time for things that bring life and enjoyment.
Our lives are too cluttered. Many of us take ourselves way too seriously. If we take a break [a day, a week, whatever], the world will not stop; on the contrary, my world and yours will work better when we are refreshed and reenergized.
So, to my fellow Kentuckians…
May we learn to embrace the sacredness of rest. There is a rhythm built into the creation story in Genesis 1…a rhythm of work and rest. We are obsessively good at one, and too often, deficient in the other.
The first day of a new week.
Dawn brings the women,
the faithful who never left him.
The pain of Friday still fresh in their hearts
And on their faces.
Stone rolled back,
Jesus’ body is missing!
A messenger of God brings Good News:
He is not here,
He has risen!
Creation begins anew,
Life bursting forth out of death.
Rules have changed,
Hope defeats despair,
Light triumphs over darkness.
A new beginning for the world…