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27 Jun '12

Reading Scripture for the first time

Posted by T.J. Addington in scripture, spiritual formation

It is amazing to me how much the “enlightenment” and the rise of “rational thinking” has impacted our reading of Scripture. What we call the enlightenment coming out of the dark ages had many advantages, allowing scientists, for instance to test their theories and come to grips with the real workings of our cosmos.


But it had other consequences as well. In a rational world, God does not break in and do the unexpected – yet any reading of the Bible shows that He indeed does. The rational world would believe that God operates according to a set of predictable rules. Yet how predictable is a God who comes to earth in the form of a baby, lives in squalid Nazareth and dies on a cross to pay for our sin of rebellion against Him? What sense does that make? It is so irrational that many refuse to believe. And a virgin birth on top of it!


Read Scripture to a child and they get it. They believe it. They devour it. They are mesmerized by the stories of an unpredictable God who is at once tame, fierce, predictable, unpredictable, doing the miraculous and surprising people at every turn. They have not yet been tainted by rational thinking that seeks to tame the untamable Aslan. 


Then listen to many messages from the “grown ups” including many pastors which turn the unpredictable into the predictable and find ways to deny the very power of God to break in and do what we don’t expect him to do. We tame God with our theology and make him fit our rationale box. Especially we tame the Holy Spirit because He is scary in his unpredictability so defining what He can and cannot do is paramount: especially if you want Him to fit your theological system.


God is not tamable. He is so far beyond our grasp and our understanding. If the edge of the known cosmos is 13 billion light-years away, he is infinitely further from that in our understanding of Him. What is amazing is that he still knows when a sparrow dies, Still intervenes in the lives of all who call Him Lord.


Still He surprises us daily with His grace. Demons are still cast out in His name, people healed miraculously in His name, lives changed dramatically in His name, the forces of evil in the universe pushed back in His name. Yet He acts according to His sovereign purposes and will surprising us with his timing and His wisdom which is beyond our understanding.


If we could reclaim the ability to read Scripture through the eyes of a child, unencumbered with our finely tuned theological systems (yes they have their place but they can also limit us) we might be surprised at the God we find. He would be more personal, more difficult to pin down, more powerful, more unpredictable in His intervention in human affairs and we would be more ready to see His surprises in our lives.


Some theologians will push back and say, "but we have 2,000 years of biblical interpretation since Jesus that needs to be kept in mind when we read the text." I agree that we have many insights from those who have gone before us. I also believe that we are often held hostage by the theological grids that we have been taught that keep us from seeing God in his full Glory. No theological system is perfect and many have significant deficiencies. What happened at taking Scripture at face value? 

Try reading the Bible as if you were reading it for the first time.