Saturday, April 25, 2015
I deal a lot with difficult passages in the Bible. There's lots of them. But beyond finding ways to deal with these passages is a bigger and more important question: How can we read the Bible in a way that helps us to grow to be more loving, more like Jesus? How do we take what the Bible says and live that out in a way that is live-giving and good? Jesus says on the Sermon on the Mount that our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. So how do we allow the teaching of Jesus to take us beyond basic religious morality to the cutting edge?
A while back I did a post on forgiveness, discussing how to understand it in a deep way, and contrasting this with hurtful ways of understanding forgiveness. One person commented saying, "Good post and I agree with it, but how do you justify it from Scripture?" I hear that a lot. People will recognize that what you are saying is good, it will resonate with their own experience as deep and true... but is it biblical? What is the Scriptural justification for this?
So let me tell you a parable. Maybe you've heard it before...
One person was given a single Bible verse. They took that Bible verse and planted it in their lives, and it grew and expanded. As they lived it out they learned how it worked, and they were able from that deep understanding to multiply their understanding.Another person also read that same single Bible verse, but they thought, "I am afraid of God, for I know that God is harsh and punishing. I better not go beyond what this says, but instead stick to the letter so I don't get in trouble." So he buried it in the ground so he wouldn't lose it.Which one did the right thing in the eyes of Jesus?
Consider that when Jesus approaches Scripture his goal is not to simply find a way to interpret Moses or the law. He is constantly offering new, creative, original ideas of how to be more loving. "Hey, you know about an eye for an eye? Try showing love to those you hate instead." That's not an interpretation, it's a brand new and better way.
So why would Jesus want us to take the "gold talent" he gives us and bury it in the ground? When we apply the Bible like that, only being able to apply what we can justify from the letter of the text, the result is, we place a low ceiling on how much we can grow morally. That means that there is a certain point where there will be nothing more for the Bible to say to us, and we will either stay stuck there permanently, or feel we have morally outgrown the Bible (and to the extent that our faith is rooted in the Bible, even feel we have outgrown our faith altogether).
I want to say that there is a better way to read that does not tether us down or stunt our growth, but allows us to continually grow. That happens when we are able to read the Bible and apply it to our lives -- learning from this how to make it walk, learning things in the act of living it out that we never could from book-study alone. We need to take what we read in Scripture and connect it to our lives, to live it out. That's the way it can grow.
That may feel scary because it means we need to trust in our own moral judgment, and many of us have been indoctrinated into thinking we can't and that we instead need to stick to the text, burying our gold in the ground for fear. I want to submit that this results in a shallow underdeveloped morality.
You can do better. It's really not hard. We just need to overcome our fear (because fear paralyzes) and take a risk of investing that gold by applying it in our lives, and watching how it grows bigger and deeper and wider as we do. This will sometimes result in success, but we will also get it wrong sometimes. That's okay because even in that failure we will learn how it works, and how it doesn't. We will from this be able to go beyond doing something because Jesus says to (although that can be an okay place to start when done from a place of trust) to really getting and deeply understanding why Jesus says it is good.
That comes from living it out, and it is simply not something that you can learn from understanding the Greek or any other exegetical tools out there. You need to get up, and go out, and put it into practice. If you can learn to do that, you'll find that the New Testament opens up, and life opens up, too.
The ceiling is gone. The sky is the limit.