The Use of a Window
Regarding reading the Bible: If you look at a window, you see flyspecks, dust, the crack where Junior's Frisbee hit it. If you look through a window, you see the world beyond. (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking)
Do you look at the Bible or through the Bible when you read it? I think looking through the Bible (like looking through a lens) is the way we see God (as clearly as a human can, which isn't particularly clearly) and the way we attempt to understand God's message (again, as clearly as a human can). How do we do that? These are some ideas I have:
- Remember that what was written was written in a particular time and place. Do some research to see what that context is because it is important. One needs to understand the circumstances in which something is written to understand what was written.
- Remember that verses and chapters are artificial and were not present when the word was written. Also remember that you steal something from the word when you lift out a verse and separate it from the rest of what was written. For example, you can lift verse Genesis 31:49b out of what is written, and it says, "The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other." It sounds like a beautiful benediction, but it isn't - it's a threat, which you see if you read the rest of the passage.
- Remember that knowing the type of writing that you are reading is important. A poem is best understood if you know it is a poem. A parable is best understood if you know it is a parable.
- There are some who will disagree with me, but no one actually "takes the Bible literally." No one. If you did, then you would return all of your property every 50th year of Jubilee, you would never touch pork or a dead animal or person, you would believe that Jesus is ACTUALLY a literal lamb, and you would believe that the parables Jesus told were not in fact parables, but were stories of people he knew.
- The best way to attempt to understand God and God's desire for our lives is to view the word through the Word of God - Jesus, himself. Jesus is the standard - higher than the Bible itself - against which we measure our interpretation of the Bible.