Under His Wings

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Dangers of  literal interpretation of Scripture — Part One

I’ve been reading through the Psalms and enjoying it greatly.  What a great, rich diversity of thoughts and expressions!  Yesterday I came to Psalm 91, which is a great Psalm and one that  I shared with the entire family in the aftermath of our home invasion which has resulted in some difficulties sleeping a general increase of “fear-ish-ness” in our home.  Psalm 91 also points out some of the difficulties and dangers of an absolute literal interpretation of the Bible.

Verse 4
He will cover you with his feathers.  He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Conversation

Literal reader:  This means that God has feathers and wings.

Me:  Let’s be careful to make such quick assumptions.  Other parts of Scripture tell us that no one has seen God and that God is spirit.  

Literal reader:  So the Scriptures cannot be trusted?  Are they contradictory?

Me:  No, not at all.  Language is a beautiful and complex things.  Meaning doesn’t come through only through the literal and mechanical combination of word formulas.  Deep and rich meanings also come through poetic language, allegory, word pictures, metaphors and more.  Particularly in the Psalms (though not only in the Psalms) words are painted as if on a canvas and are intended to help us understand and picture God, who is unseen and quite mysterious in many ways.

Literal reader:  So maybe God is not a great big chicken?

Me:  Yeah, maybe not.

Literal reader:  Yeah, but if this part of Scripture it not true then how can I accept any of the other parts?  How can I trust the authority of Scripture if the Bible doesn’t really say what it means?  Besides, I’m not a Bible scholar, how can I be expected to know which parts are literal, which are figurative, which are metaphors and which are not?  It’s much easier for me to just read it and believe it.

Me:  Those are all very important questions. There are lot of things that could be said here, but I think there are two important things to consider first.  First, the Scriptures are not intended to be a science, history, anthropology or literature textbook.  It’s purpose is not to teach you the history of Israel or the scientific origins of the universe.  It is intended to tell you the story of God (as one of my former professors, Dr. Michael Lodahl wrote about).  Our Scripture was never intended to teach a scientific theory of the specific process by which the universe was created, for example.  It was intended to teach of who God is, what He has done in our world, what He is doing and what He will do.  More importantly, the Scriptures carry in them the story of how God provided a solution our sin problem.  The Scriptures tell us everything we need to know about the solution for sin in our lives. 

Literal reader:  Okay, I can appreciate that but I still have a huge problem accepting that our Scripture could possibly have information that is not true.  If there are parts that are not true then how can I accept the parts that you say are important?

Me:  I understand.  I think here we need to make a very clear distinction between the Christian view of Scripture and those of other religious groups.  Muslims, for example, believe that their Holy Book was dictated to Muhammad word-for-word from God.  There is a belief then, that the Koran as it exists in Arabic right now is an EXACT replica of the same book that God has in heaven with him right now.  In a case like this your arguments stands–if there is any error found in the Koran then the entire book must be thrown out, or at least their understanding of the origins of their Scripture.

The Christian understanding of Scripture is not at all like this, although some within Christianity have tried to move in this direction.  The problem is that the text of Christian Scripture was never intended to be used in this way.  We believe that God INSPIRED the Biblical writers but did NOT dictate to them.  The words they wrote were what God was teaching and revealing to them expressed in their own words, from their own perspective and based on the culture, insights and knowledge that was available to them.   There is no expectation that the writers knew everything that there was to know.  

I’m not sure God really cares all that much if we understand fully the origins of the universe, but there are some things he does want us to know.  Let’s begin again at Psalm 91:4 and continue from there:

Verse 4
He will cover you with his feathers.  He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.  We can find rest and protection in the promises that God has made.

Verse 5-6
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.  Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.  We don’t need to be afraid at night or during the day, of things seen and unseen.

Verse 9-10
If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.  As in the verse above this is not teaching us that nothing bad will ever happen to us, that we’ll never get sick or that every possible negative will bypass us as if we are invisible.  Nowhere in Scripture do we see God’s people living such lives.  However, we need not be entrapped and enslaved by the evil around us–we can live different kinds lives.

Verse 11-12
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.  They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.  I stubbed my toe yesterday.  Does that make this Scripture untrue?  No.  However, I can be sure that God is watching over me and the heavenly angels, too.  I am safe in his company.  Even though my body is weak my soul is untouched.  I need not worry about anything, big or small.  Compared to flying arrows a stubbed toe is a small thing.  Yet, I need not worry about the little things that also trip up so many people.  God is watching over me.  And even when I am walking through a very rocky place in my life, God is watching my steps, leading me through.

Verse 14-16
The lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.  I will protect those who trust in my name.
15When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.  I will rescue and honor them.
16I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

~Do Everything In Love

If you enjoyed this post please consider supporting this blog

I can do anything?

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216HThoughts on Philippians 4:13

You be anything you want to be.  You can do anything you want to do.  FALSE!

When I was coaching 9th grade basketball I had a kid on my team—Bobby*— that proved a person CANNOT be anything they want to be.  Some people just don’t have the physical ability to be or do anything they might want.  Others have great physical skills but do not have the mental capacity to be or do anything.  Others just weren’t born or raised in the right place to be or do anything. 

We use this phrase all the time, especially with our children but we know it’s not true.  We in the west might have a lot of opportunities that others do not have and our children do have a wider range of possibilities for their futures (not all of which “good”), but they cannot do anything or be anything they want.

There are few verses that are more misused than Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.  If there was ever a verse torn apart from ripped out of context too often, this is it. This verse has been memorized and written on bathroom mirrors as much as any verse in the Bible.   You can find this verse on the sneakers of professional basketball players and that black stuff that football players wear on their face.  It has been the motto of many diet plans, mountain-climbers and nervous test-takers.

If we were on the outside looking in…

[I had a teacher who used to always say, “What would extraterrestrials think if they were studying our society from their far away galactic space stations. “]

Our situation here is not all that different—people are watching us, watching the news, watching, listening and reading about us from the outside.  What they see and conclude may not be the kinds of things for which we would hope.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me something like, “Hmmm…you’re very different than what I thought you would be like.”  People are watching and they have made some conclusions about us based on how we talk and behave.

So, if we were on the outside looking in we might conclude that the Bible teaches that whatever I want to do, God will give me the strength to do it.  Again, like Bobby*, my 9th grade basketball player, we know that this is simply not true.   If that’s not what it means, though, then what does this verse mean?

There are a lot directions we could go at this point, but let’s limit our view to just the few verses preceding verse 13.  In verses 4-12 we are encouraged to:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always
  • Let our gentleness be evident in all we do
  • Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation be thankful and pray
  • Think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise-worthy
  • Put what we have heard or seen into practice
  • Be content in all circumstances

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength…but…

  • It’s not always easy to rejoice…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • Gentleness is not always my natural tendency…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • I worry sometimes that being anxious is too often where I live…but I can avoid “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • It is so easy to think about things that are not true, not noble, not pure…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • It is not easy to put these things into practice…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • Contentment is not always my natural frame of mind nor the attitude of my heart…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength

I can do all these things and you can do all these things (and more) through Christ who will give the strength to do them. 

It’s not – Whatever I set my mind to do Christ will make it happen if I work hard enough, or if I have enough faith or if I say enough prayers.

Rather — Whatever circumstances I face, God will give me the strength and courage to:

  • Rejoice
  • Be gentle (I don’t thinks it would be too unfair to include all the fruits of the Spirit along with gentleness)
  • Not worry
  • Have peace of heart
  • Think about what is good and right
  • To put all that the Lord has taught us into practice
  • And be content in all circumstances

So, Christ may not help the professional basketball player win a game or set new records but He will help that player to rejoice and be content whatever the outcome.  He may not give extra strength to lose that last 10 pounds but he will give strength not to worry and have peace of heart whether the pounds are lost or not.  For the person who is “in Christ” we can be and do all of these things win or lose, successful diet or not, good or bad, rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Whatever the circumstance and outcome we have access to the strength that will help us to have peace in the midst of whatever situation we are facing.

To finish up we’ll take this to a place that we don’t always like to go.  If through Christ I have strength to do all of these things that we’ve been talking about, then I have to consider that perhaps “all these things” might also include some of the things I might want to avoid–

Problems…suffering…discomfort…sickness… trials….and more.

What if this strength from Christ in the midst of “less than ideal” circumstances is not just theoretical but is actually part of God’s plan for me?  Love is proved true when we love those who don’t love us.  What if contentment and peace are proved true when we are in situations that don’t make us feel content and peaceful?

  • His strength is made real when I don’t feel strong…
  • His strength is powerful in us when we feel weak…

We glorify God not by our most heroic human efforts, rather when our only way out is by his strength.  In his strength we can do “all these things” that he wants us to do.  And the peace of God is beyond all understanding will guard our hearts and minds all along the way.

~Do Everything In Love

If you enjoyed this post please consider supporting this blog

Under His Wings

Standard

cropped-cropped-18782524240_635c234428_k.jpg

Dangers of  literal interpretation of Scripture — Part One

I’ve been reading through the Psalms and enjoying it greatly.  What a great, rich diversity of thoughts and expressions!  Yesterday I came to Psalm 91, which is a great Psalm and one that  I shared with the entire family in the aftermath of our home invasion which has resulted in some difficulties sleeping a general increase of “fear-ish-ness” in our home.  Psalm 91 also points out some of the difficulties and dangers of an absolute literal interpretation of the Bible.

Verse 4
He will cover you with his feathers.  He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Conversation

Literal reader:  This means that God has feathers and wings.

Me:  Let’s be careful to make such quick assumptions.  Other parts of Scripture tell us that no one has seen God and that God is spirit.  

Literal reader:  So the Scriptures cannot be trusted?  Are they contradictory?

Me:  No, not at all.  Language is a beautiful and complex things.  Meaning doesn’t come through only through the literal and mechanical combination of word formulas.  Deep and rich meanings also come through poetic language, allegory, word pictures, metaphors and more.  Particularly in the Psalms (though not only in the Psalms) words are painted as if on a canvas and are intended to help us understand and picture God, who is unseen and quite mysterious in many ways.

Literal reader:  So maybe God is not a great big chicken?

Me:  Yeah, maybe not.

Literal reader:  Yeah, but if this part of Scripture it not true then how can I accept any of the other parts?  How can I trust the authority of Scripture if the Bible doesn’t really say what it means?  Besides, I’m not a Bible scholar, how can I be expected to know which parts are literal, which are figurative, which are metaphors and which are not?  It’s much easier for me to just read it and believe it.

Me:  Those are all very important questions. There are lot of things that could be said here, but I think there are two important things to consider first.  First, the Scriptures are not intended to be a science, history, anthropology or literature textbook.  It’s purpose is not to teach you the history of Israel or the scientific origins of the universe.  It is intended to tell you the story of God (as one of my former professors, Dr. Michael Lodahl wrote about).  Our Scripture was never intended to teach a scientific theory of the specific process by which the universe was created, for example.  It was intended to teach of who God is, what He has done in our world, what He is doing and what He will do.  More importantly, the Scriptures carry in them the story of how God provided a solution our sin problem.  The Scriptures tell us everything we need to know about the solution for sin in our lives. 

Literal reader:  Okay, I can appreciate that but I still have a huge problem accepting that our Scripture could possibly have information that is not true.  If there are parts that are not true then how can I accept the parts that you say are important?

Me:  I understand.  I think here we need to make a very clear distinction between the Christian view of Scripture and those of other religious groups.  Muslims, for example, believe that their Holy Book was dictated to Muhammad word-for-word from God.  There is a belief then, that the Koran as it exists in Arabic right now is an EXACT replica of the same book that God has in heaven with him right now.  In a case like this your arguments stands–if there is any error found in the Koran then the entire book must be thrown out, or at least their understanding of the origins of their Scripture.

The Christian understanding of Scripture is not at all like this, although some within Christianity have tried to move in this direction.  The problem is that the text of Christian Scripture was never intended to be used in this way.  We believe that God INSPIRED the Biblical writers but did NOT dictate to them.  The words they wrote were what God was teaching and revealing to them expressed in their own words, from their own perspective and based on the culture, insights and knowledge that was available to them.   There is no expectation that the writers knew everything that there was to know.  

I’m not sure God really cares all that much if we understand fully the origins of the universe, but there are some things he does want us to know.  Let’s begin again at Psalm 91:4 and continue from there:

Verse 4
He will cover you with his feathers.  He will shelter you with his wings.  His faithful promises are your armor and protection.  We can find rest and protection in the promises that God has made.

Verse 5-6
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day.  Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday.  We don’t need to be afraid at night or during the day, of things seen and unseen.

Verse 9-10
If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.  As in the verse above this is not teaching us that nothing bad will ever happen to us, that we’ll never get sick or that every possible negative will bypass us as if we are invisible.  Nowhere in Scripture do we see God’s people living such lives.  However, we need not be entrapped and enslaved by the evil around us–we can live different kinds lives.

Verse 11-12
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.  They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.  I stubbed my toe yesterday.  Does that make this Scripture untrue?  No.  However, I can be sure that God is watching over me and the heavenly angels, too.  I am safe in his company.  Even though my body is weak my soul is untouched.  I need not worry about anything, big or small.  Compared to flying arrows a stubbed toe is a small thing.  Yet, I need not worry about the little things that also trip up so many people.  God is watching over me.  And even when I am walking through a very rocky place in my life, God is watching my steps, leading me through.

Verse 14-16
The lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.  I will protect those who trust in my name.
15When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.  I will rescue and honor them.
16I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

~Do Everything In Love

If you enjoyed this post please consider supporting this blog

I can do anything?

Standard

216HThoughts on Philippians 4:13

You be anything you want to be.  You can do anything you want to do.  FALSE!

When I was coaching 9th grade basketball I had a kid on my team—Bobby*— that proved a person CANNOT be anything they want to be.  Some people just don’t have the physical ability to be or do anything they might want.  Others have great physical skills but do not have the mental capacity to be or do anything.  Others just weren’t born or raised in the right place to be or do anything. 

We use this phrase all the time, especially with our children but we know it’s not true.  We in the west might have a lot of opportunities that others do not have and our children do have a wider range of possibilities for their futures (not all of which “good”), but they cannot do anything or be anything they want.

There are few verses that are more misused than Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.  If there was ever a verse torn apart from ripped out of context too often, this is it. This verse has been memorized and written on bathroom mirrors as much as any verse in the Bible.   You can find this verse on the sneakers of professional basketball players and that black stuff that football players wear on their face.  It has been the motto of many diet plans, mountain-climbers and nervous test-takers.

If we were on the outside looking in…

[I had a teacher who used to always say, “What would extraterrestrials think if they were studying our society from their far away galactic space stations. “]

Our situation here is not all that different—people are watching us, watching the news, watching, listening and reading about us from the outside.  What they see and conclude may not be the kinds of things for which we would hope.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tell me something like, “Hmmm…you’re very different than what I thought you would be like.”  People are watching and they have made some conclusions about us based on how we talk and behave.

So, if we were on the outside looking in we might conclude that the Bible teaches that whatever I want to do, God will give me the strength to do it.  Again, like Bobby*, my 9th grade basketball player, we know that this is simply not true.   If that’s not what it means, though, then what does this verse mean?

There are a lot directions we could go at this point, but let’s limit our view to just the few verses preceding verse 13.  In verses 4-12 we are encouraged to:

  • Rejoice in the Lord always
  • Let our gentleness be evident in all we do
  • Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation be thankful and pray
  • Think about what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise-worthy
  • Put what we have heard or seen into practice
  • Be content in all circumstances

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength…but…

  • It’s not always easy to rejoice…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • Gentleness is not always my natural tendency…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • I worry sometimes that being anxious is too often where I live…but I can avoid “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • It is so easy to think about things that are not true, not noble, not pure…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • It is not easy to put these things into practice…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength
  • Contentment is not always my natural frame of mind nor the attitude of my heart…but I can do “this thing” with Christ’s strength

I can do all these things and you can do all these things (and more) through Christ who will give the strength to do them. 

It’s not – Whatever I set my mind to do Christ will make it happen if I work hard enough, or if I have enough faith or if I say enough prayers.

Rather — Whatever circumstances I face, God will give me the strength and courage to:

  • Rejoice
  • Be gentle (I don’t thinks it would be too unfair to include all the fruits of the Spirit along with gentleness)
  • Not worry
  • Have peace of heart
  • Think about what is good and right
  • To put all that the Lord has taught us into practice
  • And be content in all circumstances

So, Christ may not help the professional basketball player win a game or set new records but He will help that player to rejoice and be content whatever the outcome.  He may not give extra strength to lose that last 10 pounds but he will give strength not to worry and have peace of heart whether the pounds are lost or not.  For the person who is “in Christ” we can be and do all of these things win or lose, successful diet or not, good or bad, rich or poor, healthy or sick.  Whatever the circumstance and outcome we have access to the strength that will help us to have peace in the midst of whatever situation we are facing.

To finish up we’ll take this to a place that we don’t always like to go.  If through Christ I have strength to do all of these things that we’ve been talking about, then I have to consider that perhaps “all these things” might also include some of the things I might want to avoid–

Problems…suffering…discomfort…sickness… trials….and more.

What if this strength from Christ in the midst of “less than ideal” circumstances is not just theoretical but is actually part of God’s plan for me?  Love is proved true when we love those who don’t love us.  What if contentment and peace are proved true when we are in situations that don’t make us feel content and peaceful?

  • His strength is made real when I don’t feel strong…
  • His strength is powerful in us when we feel weak…

We glorify God not by our most heroic human efforts, rather when our only way out is by his strength.  In his strength we can do “all these things” that he wants us to do.  And the peace of God is beyond all understanding will guard our hearts and minds all along the way.

~Do Everything In Love

If you enjoyed this post please consider supporting this blog