Photo by Bud Helisson on Unsplash
As I was going for a walk the other day, I realized just how grateful I am for my glasses as I looked up at the trees, saw the design of the leaves on the branches and the birds up high.
I am short-sighted, so I can only see clearly with my glasses on. I can make mistakes if I don’t wear them.
For example, I can’t make out who someone actually is if they are across the road from me. This means I may well end up waving at someone who has no clue who I am! And I might come to completely wrong conclusions about what something really is, due to my poor natural vision.
Without my glasses I miss out on anything that is too far away, not being able to see anything in detail at a distance. It would be a waste of money having a room that looked out on some beautiful scenery if I did not bring my glasses with me.
All this can be quite frustrating.
What’s wrong? My eyes
Thankfully, we live at a time when our vision can be corrected, and none of the above need be a problem. We could apply the same principle to when it comes to reading Scripture. We can make mistakes, miss out on the real meaning and important details, draw wrong conclusions and become so frustrated we give up even trying. But help is out there!
When it comes to reading, some of you may really need to put glasses on due to your failing eyes, but I believe we all need to put spiritual glasses on, no matter what our physical vision is like.
When I go for a sight test, the optometrist diagnoses the problem and provides me with the correct prescription to correct my vision. If they gave me the wrong prescription, I would still have a problem seeing.
I would submit that, whether we realize it or not, we all wear glasses of some kind when we read the Bible – and some of those glasses need to be changed. Many of us need a new prescription.
Sometimes, people wear ‘fake’ glasses to project a certain image of intellectual ability, but the reality is, people who really need glasses have a deficiency – there’s something WRONG with their eyes – but there’s no shame in that.
When most people hit a certain age, we may well need reading glasses and there is a certain amount of resignation to the fact that our body is showing signs of the deterioration that comes with age. I imagine most people do not see this as a positive process. We desperately need to put our reading glasses on, no matter how old or young we are.
So, what glasses are we wearing when it comes to reading the Scriptures?
What kind of glasses do we need to restore our vision?
Although the glasses analogy could be applied to several areas, I’ve narrowed down the ‘type’ of glasses we need to three.
First and foremost, we need to don the glasses of humility.
We all need to realize we come to the text with presuppositions, as a result of our culture, our church background, what our parents taught us, our education, theologies – the list goes on.
The first step to correcting our faulty eyesight is realizing there’s a problem in the first place!
That takes humility – admitting we cannot possibly know what everything in the Bible means by ourselves, as well as realizing our denomination might not always have everything right.
When it came to understanding the Word Of God Himself in John 9, when Jesus healed the blind man, it was the pride of the Pharisees that prevented them from seeing, from understanding.
Jesus said to them, “Since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” In other words, pride blinds people to the truth. Let’s seek to get rid of it when we approach the Bible.
If our default position is, I cannot assume I know everything about what this text means, then we will have a greater chance of moving towards the meaning.
Perhaps we have thought we do not need or want to hear what biblical scholars think or, heaven forbid, someone from another denomination! Could that be our pride getting in the way? This could actually prevent us from accessing some real treasures of understanding that would cause us to have a greater appreciation of and wonder at the Author of the Word.
Jesus talks about people who think they can see, but spiritually speaking, they are actually blind. Blind to what? Their own sin. Why? They lack humility and are full of pride in their own religiosity and ‘good works.’
The Pharisees, after all, really thought they knew their Bible, but look how they treated Jesus! Who is this carpenter boy telling us what the Bible means? Who does he think he is?
I think we can have a similar attitude when it comes to our own pride in ourselves and our ability to understand, and pride in our denomination, our church, and our favourite teachers, which can actually prevent us learning.
Would we waltz into God’s presence and talk to Him like we know better than He does?
Yet, when it comes to the Word, I think we often have exactly this kind of attitude – that we already know what it means. Instead of genuinely saying, ‘Lord I want to understand Your Word, please help me and direct me to good resources that will enable me to do that. Thank you for providing tools and men and women who have given their lives to study so that we can benefit from the fruits of their labour.’
We may think a particular denominational slant is the BEST or even the ONLY correct interpretation of certain passages/themes, or we may not realize just how much our own culture has skewed our understanding.
Certainly, the psalmist realized his need when he said, ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law’ (Psalm 119:18). Having an attitude of humility as we come to a text, will set us on the right path to gaining a better understanding.
A second type of glasses is those of ‘living a holy life.’
Peter talks directly about this in 2 Peter 1:3-9, where he mentions being short-sighted. What is he talking about here? Someone who is short-sighted only sees what is right in front of them – not any distance behind (their past) or ahead (their future). Here it is talking about their past – when they were purified from their former sins – perhaps suggesting that because they have forgotten this, they are not making any effort to add/supplement their faith with moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love.
Someone who is lacking in these areas is described by Peter as being short-sighted: that is, unfruitful and useless!
It’s true, a short-sighted person is no good at walking and leading or looking behind them or ahead, and is pretty limited in what they can actually achieve or produce.
We should always call to mind the purification from our former sins, remembering that we were (& still are) sinful, and make an effort to add to our faith the qualities listed. This will ensure we are striving towards the goal of holy living.
Another verse that springs to mind is Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” We really should not expect to get to a good understanding of the Word of God if we are making no effort to live lives that are pleasing to Him.
And thirdly, I do believe there needs to be a desire for truth – the glasses of wanting to understand.
If we are honest, we do not always approach our reading with this attitude… not really. If we were, we WOULD put in the effort to seriously look into those passages we are just not sure about. James 1:25 says, the “…one who looks intently at the perfect law… and abides by it… this man will be blessed in what he does.”
Do we really want to see?
Honestly, as I am ageing, I do look better in a bathroom mirror when the lighting is dimmed, but that is not what I really look like; it’s a sort of delusion!
It might well be tempting to skip over passages that we find convicting (that require us to change) or confusing (that require us to spend time looking into them). But if we really believe the Bible is indeed God’s Word to us, it is worth making changes to how we ‘see’ it.
Do we really believe that as we behold the glory of the Lord in His Word, we will start to change into His likeness?
Being in bright light enhances my vision. We know that Jesus is the Light of the world and He does indeed illuminate our darkness.
I have heard people say we just need the Holy Spirit to teach us. But let us examine that a little as it is relevant to this topic.
If I did not wear my glasses because I believed I did not need them and then went out, trusting that the Holy Spirit would see me safely across a busy road, I think most people would say I was being presumptuous and downright foolish.
Of course, we need the Holy Spirit to help us in ALL areas of life – but the fact is, the Bible was written at certain times in history in certain cultures that are far removed from our current lives.
If we think the Holy Spirit is going to ‘magically’ give us complete understanding, I would say, think again.
I am reminded that the apostle Paul was an accomplished scholar. He spent many years pursuing a higher education in the Scriptures, and God used it to great effect, resulting in a fruitful ministry.
In turn, Paul urged his disciple Timothy to study diligently, so that he would accurately handle God’s Word. Paul had a desire for Timothy to also be fruitful.
Paul did not at any time say to Timothy, “Just rely on the Spirit to show you.”
I think such attitudes are very lazy and potentially dangerous, as it can lead to all sorts of false teaching.
I hope we can see that we all do wear glasses, but we may need to make some changes to our prescription. I know that this area of meaning and hermeneutics is a vast topic that has been the subject of much scholarly work. I just wanted to pen a few thoughts, as it is something I have come to realize is of utmost importance if we are truly seeking to be disciples (learners) of Jesus, our Great Teacher.
Let 2020 be the year when we seek to move closer towards that 20/20 vision, which will be ours when He appears and we see Him as He is!
‘Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes’ by E. Randolph Richards