September 11, 2014

My problem goes deeper than my method

The theology course I’m currently studying is Hermeneutics, the science and art of interpreting Scripture. I like the topic, but in some ways find it frustrating.

Those who ‘specialize’ in this field seem to look for a cut and dried method, a list of principles that always works for all passages of the Bible. They want objectivity; we must distance ourselves and not bring presuppositions, human ideas and desires, and so on into interpretation. Yet despite all best efforts, those trying to formulate the rules continually find parts that don’t fit.

One issue is that those who reject the Bible as the Word of God call those parts ‘inconsistencies’ and use them to dismiss the rest of the Bible. This adds fuel to the search for a ‘cut and dried’ way of trying to explain every part, as if that will change the minds of all skeptics. In other words, some theologians seem bent on proving what we believe by making everything logical and tied up in a neat package.

However, God and faith never ask for perfect hermeneutical how-to lists. Faith is about God, not about how good my brain is at figuring out God. Actually, the deeper my relationship with God, the more I realize how puny I am at figuring Him out.

Instead, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen . . . By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” (Hebrews 11:1–3) By this definition and example, faith is trusting God concerning what I cannot see or understand. It means trusting Him in the fog of my finite mind.

Of course that mind does need a proper hermeneutic in the sense that I am apt to go off the rails because of bringing my own ideas, wants, worldview, baggage and so on into my study. If I am reading any book, I need to know what the words mean. I must consider the author, the culture, the historical data, the context and genre, and so on. However, after being as objective as possible, to get at what God is saying eventually boils down to relying on God to make sense of it.

After all, faith is assurance about what I cannot figure out. What God says and is doing usually does not make sense (at least at first), but I don’t need to human rationale to trust Him. Rather, I need grace to know Him, to trust Him, and to hear what He says.
Aside from that, it has been said that the parts of the Bible we don’t understand should not bother us, but the parts that we do understand. For me, it goes like this: the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand become less of a problem in light of the parts that I do understand. That is, what I know about God and what He says is enough to trust Him concerning the parts that don’t make sense.

Lots of it does make sense. For instance, the Apostle John wrote this: “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Revelation 1:4–8)

I get it. Jesus died for me and is building His kingdom. He is coming back and the world will mourn over what was done to Him. Using a ‘proper hermeneutic’ theologians try to figure out what that second coming will look like, but I don’t need to know how and when, only that He says He will return. It will happen. I trust Him for that because He has already doing the first part where He loves me and sets me free from sin by His blood. Faith isn’t about how things happen, but about who makes them happen!

While a sound hermeneutic is needed, the danger is putting too much trust in how I do it. God has shown me that my problem isn’t with my interpretation rules, but with my foggy and finite brain. Sin ruined it. Jesus sets me free from that ruin by cleansing the crap and in that process, I gain ability to make sense of His Word. I am more concerned that my focus stays on getting rid of my junk, rather than on ‘properly’ understanding what I’m not yet ready to understand. 

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