Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is It Possible To Understand The Bible?

Nearly every social group, whether among friends or coworkers, has someone who knows everything. That isn't to say the person actually does know everything, but they definitely talk as if they do. Cars? They've fixed every problem with their brother-in-law's toolkit. Computers? Yeah, they took a class. Russian literature? You know you're in for an earful when they open by spelling "Dostoevsky" (me? I Googled it).

Recently, it occurred to me why every group has a know-it-all. Because to some degree, we're all know-it-alls. Maybe we don't pretend to have a grip on mathematics or global economics, but we will exhibit a deep well of hubris when it comes to subjects familiar to us.

Jesus dealt with this attitude all the time. Pharisees, (the lawyers) for example. They knew the words of the Bible and all kinds of loopholes in the Law. But they missed the point of the Bible, the purpose of the Law. Zealots (the Tea Party types) probably memorized every possible scripture foretelling the coming Messiah. But instead of a political upheaval, they got a humble teacher who told them it wouldn't happen the way they thought or when they thought it should.

Now, anyone could easily read this and try to say interpretation messes with the truth of the Bible. Or maybe they would say the Bible never made sense in the first place.

I may be in the minority when I say this, but I think the Bible might only make sense when God explains it.

Luke 24 tells the story of two men walking to Emmaus after Jesus has died and talking about the reports of his resurrection. Jesus appears next to them and joins the conversation, but verse 16 says "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." Jesus asks them what they're talking about, and one of the men replies, "Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" Jesus plays dumb and asks, "What things?" The men begin to tell Jesus about... Jesus, and how they hoped He would be the one to save them. Then, they go on to tell him about some weird reports of how He had come back to life.

Jesus, still unrecognized, says, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And going all the way back to the books Moses had written and all the prophetic books, Jesus explained how all the scriptures pointed to what had just happened in Jerusalem.

It wasn't until they had walked together over seven miles and sat down to dinner that "their eyes were opened, and they recognized him."

A lot of Christians might consider Paul one of the smartest people who ever lived. A Roman-era Ben Stein. He studied under the best Bible teachers and gained respect with the Jewish leaders. We're not told this explicitly in the Bible, but I'll bet he was the know-it-all in his group of friends.

Long after Paul's conversion, he told the Corinthian church, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."

I don't want to claim the Bible can only benefit someone by way of a mystical experience. The people following Jesus, Paul, the Zealots, and the Pharisees all gained good knowledge from God's word. By hearing and reading scripture, they gained more knowledge, not less. However, the knowledge doesn't seem to make sense as a whole unless the Spirit reveals the meaning.

Do you have trouble understanding the Bible? Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit reveal something to you in it?


Dan Knight said...

You make a very good point. So often we are told to pray under the Spirit's leading, make decisions under the Spirit's guidance, and it only makes sense that the Spirit would help us better understand God's Word.

Isaiah Kallman said...

Thanks, Dan! I hadn't thought about it that way.