Some have said that reading scripture – really reading it for themselves it what caused them to question their beliefs and ultimately walk away from Christianity. Just as many have said that reading scripture – really reading it for themselves is what caused them to be all the more certain about their beliefs and walk more closely with Jesus. Almost every church I know has encouraged me to read the Bible. There’s no shortage of books about how to read the Bible. Knowing how to really read scripture makes all the difference.
Have you ever tried on those cheap 3D glasses that sometimes come with certain movies? We had a movie come with four of them, which wasn’t quite enough for all of us, but we weren’t about to buy another copy of the same movie anytime soon. Over the years we lost most of them and likely broke and threw away the rest – they were, after all, little more than cardboard and red and blue film glued together. The interesting thing about them is what everything looks like when you wear them all the time. Things that look one color in one eye look like a totally different color in another eye. Modern Christians may not always be aware but we walk around with such lenses all the time. It doesn’t change the color of what we see, but how we understand and interpret the world around us. Like the red film, we have a culture that values freedom, pride, self-sufficiency, and the individual, etc. Like the blue film, we have biases, from being from up north or the south or the east or the west and what that means to us, how we’re set apart from other nations, how our faith is superior to other religions in our benevolence, things like that. These things don’t just disappear when we open up the Bible – we don’t see it’s words in black and white (or red). We see it’s words interpreted through our own sense of ethics and standards of behavior.
Which is why so many pastors teach Scripture the way they do – as in the example of Lot, it was taught out of order, out of context, and out of time in order to teach a ‘moral’ to the story. The original message of the story is irrelevant so long as a seed of morality can be established. If a pastor can teach his congregation what moral they are to extract from this passage and any ones similar to it, then it won’t be long before the danger of reading the Bible for themselves is mitigated by having been taught what they were supposed to find in it and having been taught what things they are supposed to gloss over or ignore entirely. Which is why rich details can so thoroughly escape us. We don’t know what they mean or why they’re important enough to be in the Bible, but if they are not part of the moral to the story, then it’s unimportant to our own understanding.
I remember making a point of it to my new youth pastor that my Bible clearly stated ‘brothers and sisters’ whereas his preferred translation used ‘brethren’ and he referred to them repeatedly as ‘brothers’ during a particular lesson. He remedied the misunderstanding by presenting me with my own copy of his preferred translation. I thought it odd that would do such a thing, after all, the majority of the youth group were girls. Shouldn’t his words indicate that they are just as much included in the kingdom of God and all that entails as the boys are? Later, I had learned that there was such a thing as a separation from the brothers and sisters that went beyond my imagination. In that church, the pastor would arrange for a deacon to teach about the roles of men and women. In another church, every Sunday school meeting for the adults would end in a gender-segregated prayer. Brothers and sisters, even from the ancient days and here and now, are separate and different and therefore cannot be treated the same. Such is what happens when a lens distorts scripture.
Lenses can also be odd shapes – convex and concave. They can bend what you see and invert an image. That might explain much of the trouble we have when it comes to all of the methods of how one ought to interpret scripture. But lenses can also be corrective – fixing a flaw in the design. We will always read scripture through a lens of our biases, our morality, our ethics – and once we’re aware of that, we can decide how much power that lens will have over shaping our theology. We can wholeheartedly read Scripture through our biases, misinterpret, misread, and misunderstand Scripture as if we’ve got it right and cannot possibly be wrong. We can wholeheartedly search for a lens that corrects our faulty vision and puts everything in a clear perspective … but that is only if we have eyes to see and ears to hear.