Communication and the Bible
Think about a relationship with someone you know very well. Now, think about one of times when there was a colossal failure of communication. The other party said something to you and in the saying of it they had a certain intention. But because of your blood sugar, work frustrations, other relational stresses, and host of other factors, their words and body language were received by you as meaning something entirely different than what was intended. They were offering encouragement and you received it as condemnation. They had a question and you received it as an accusation. Has it happened to you?
Of course. The good news is that with a little deconstructing, clarifying, and rearticulating, the two of you can come closer to reality. It takes a little work, but it can happen. What’s far more difficult is finding clarity of what the author was trying to say when you’re reading a book – the Bible, for example. You’re trying to understand if all those slaughters in the Old Testament means God’s OK with war, or if instead the teachings of Jesus about turning the other cheek mean that war is simply not an option for the person of faith. Maybe you want to know what God thinks about homosexuality, or divorce, or capitalism (of the three, God seems least ambiguous about divorce). So you read, but the feedback loop seems closed. How do we come up with a sense of what God is saying? I’d suggest that, among other things, the following communication tools will help:
- Humility: I need to come to grips with the reality that I don’t always know what my wife is saying clearly and I’ve lived with her for 27 years. I bring my own script to the table and so I sometimes miss her point entirely. Only later, after clarifying comments, do I begin to understand. The same thing is true with the Bible. I need to live with the convictions that I have UNTIL I’m persuaded that I’ve missed something, that God was trying to tell us something other than I thought. This shifting has happened sometimes. Sometimes it’s gotten me into trouble with people who’ve been threatened by a theology that evolves. But I’m convinced that if the heart is looking for truth, our theology WILL evolve.
- Clarifying Voices: When I misunderstand someone and they know I’ve missed the point, they might look at me, cock their head say, “You just don’t get it do you!” Then they’ll say it again, “What I meant was…” and their clarifying statements will have provide the needed light. When we read the Bible, the clarifying voices are there too – you just need to look a little more closely to find them. I don’t have time to go into right here, but the clarifying voices that I find most helpful are: a) Other scripture passages, b) the cultural context of a passage, and c) Church history. None of these are ‘trump cards’ that alone bring a definitive clarifying interpretation. But all are important. Without them, singular passages from the Bible can be used in incredibly destructive ways.
- The Holy Spirit. This seems to be the most vital source of correction and clarification. If we read the Bible prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit to show us what God is saying, I believe that prayer will be answered. Of course, two people pray such a prayer and still come to diametrically opposite conclusions in many, many areas. That’s why we need humility – but humility doesn’t mean that we stop living until we get it all figured out. It simply means that we understand that, until we see Christ face to face, we’re on a journey. So let’s give each other the grace to remain in fellowship and dialogue, because the voice of the other will help me see with greater clarity if I approach it with prayer, humility, and a commitment to truth.