Some people read the Bible as if it’s an ancient version of the Chronicles of Narnia.
It’s all allegory and mystery, a kind of gamesmanship to see who can eke out the most complicated meaning of generally plain words.
There’s poetry. History. Laws. Wisdom. Gospels. Letters. Prophetic.
Funny thing about the Bible; for the most part, when it uses an allegory, a metaphor, or a simile, it tells you what the meaning is, either there in the passage or elsewhere in reference. God doesn’t force us to become modern St. Augustine’s and extrapolate culturally relevant or other allegories that we find palatable in our time.
Billy Graham was famous for repeatedly using the phrase “The Bible says…” and then unashamedly saying the most ludicrous thing to ever hit our modern ears.
For too many people, the Bible is a blank slate waiting for us to write our own meaning upon it, as if its content was nothing more than a coat rack for us to hang our hat on.
God means what he says.
When he says six days, he means it.
When he says man and woman, he means it.
When he says the whole earth, he means it.
When he says blood is required where there’s sin, he means it.
When he says it is finished, he means it.
When he says a thousand years, he means it.
When he says everlasting punishment and fire, he means it.
Oh, yes, translations and source materials and footnotes galore! How we are so thankful for that so that we can have some wiggle room to come of with fantastic theories that may or may not be true, but generally distract us enough to realize we don’t have to chase down the foggy paths because God made the most important path very clear.
When my mom sits down to read Genesis, the Holy Spirit reads along with her and if she doesn’t arrive at some convoluted understanding that the story of creation is really just some labyrinth understanding of the Ancient Near East temple setup, chances are pretty good that no matter how many degrees and books by Wheaton professors you’ve read, that’s not what it means.
Ah, but we love the hidden knowledge, don’t we?
I know I do. I easily wander far down a conspiracy theory; the truth of it doesn’t matter, because it effectively distracts me from the thing I’m to focus on now. I easily wander into the fringe theology of the Bible; the theories of the nephilim and the book of Enoch and the Titans and gods of Psalm 82 are irrelevant because they’ve led me to argue with someone and distracted me from the thing I’m to focus on now.
It’s not just fringe paths, though. It’s about a complete reworking of the scriptures.
We love to gobble up the books by theologians who further complicate and twist the Bible into elaborate philosophies and comparative structures, finding ways to take the plain Word, the Good News that can save a dying thief on the cross in just a few minutes, and turn it into 4D chess.
We love to think we’re more educated than those simple fundamentalists who still just read God’s Word and take him at his word. We have degrees and the benefit of smart people telling us their theories. We become a class of believers who might patronize the simple, but patiently try to teach them, from pulpit or screen or printed page, how much more complicated the Bible really is.
You can’t really understand the Bible unless you are a historian, an archaeologist, an expert on Greek, an MDiv, am I right?
Perhaps we don’t realize what we’re doing, but it’s quite simple. We’re creating hidden knowledge.
In my 20s and 30s, I delighted in complex books that posited all kinds of theological what ifs, those grand new theories and ways of understanding it that would tickle the ears and mind.
The hot new interpretation! A new way of looking at creation! A new way of understanding the sacrificial system! A new way of understanding who Jesus was! A more humane understanding of atonement!
Another cog in the Evangelical publishing machine, more like, a machine there to capture the brain farts of the theologians and thought leaders in hopes of making some money and staying relevant and remembered by the next generation.
I have gotten rid of most of those books now, but as I was culling my shelves to make room, I started wondering why they attracted me so much. The answer I came to is embarrassing: they made me feel special.
I had increased my knowledge, you see, not necessarily in the ways God directs us to in the Bible (by asking him in a heartfelt way, desiring true knowledge of him), but by reading the latest book.
I was in on a secret because I knew more than the average Bible reader would grasp just by plainly reading their Bible. I was let in on the special knowledge that only people who were schooled by the author would know. I could entice people into complicated discussions about theoreticals, perhaps using big words or ideas that might confuse them into silence and make them question their overly simplistic beliefs. I appeared to be a major intellect, deep and interesting to have around in conversation.
Clearly, I forgot that God told us there was nothing new under the sun.
Rob Bell’s insistence there was no hell was not new. Tony Campolo’s insistence that everyone eventually got to heaven was nothing new. I learned Genesis and Revelation, the book ends of the Bible, were mere allegory, that the Bible had errors (i.e. “did God really say?”), and on it went. Nothing new, as far as heresies and distractions go, but packaged ever so pretty and fresh, capitalizing on each generation’s foolish belief that they are the chosen ones to receive new revelation and change the entire world, setting it free from the dark history that existed before they took their first breath.
The pursuit of secret knowledge, that Gnostic tendency we have in the human heart to want to snicker at the fruit and instead, cut to the heart of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and stake our claim there, is always alive and well.
Don’t get me wrong.
The Bible is far more interwoven and complex than we humans will ever grasp this side of eternity. Between the incredible number patterns in the Hebrew and the way it interprets itself and weaves back in a thicker layer where the smallest detail that seemed inconsequential suddenly blows your mind, to how God’s gospel of salvation was progressively revealed from Genesis to Revelation—it is an infinite source of truth and the source of all true knowledge on any subject we throw at it. It’s beyond our comprehension, which is why we are never done studying and reading the Bible.
Yet in all that complexity, its threads are woven straight and true, which is part of the big miracle. It leads the slowest and most intelligent mind to the Truth in a direct path for those who would simply believe. We could never accomplish that complexity with such clear weaving.
So that’s why we do what we do; our chaotic fallen minds rebel at the clarity, and so we must inject chaos into the Word.
What happens if, instead of taking a deeper look at the clear yet complex weaving, we decide instead to clip a thread and start to unravel it to reconstruct the pattern in a different way? To maybe fix or adjust to our liking what isn’t remotely obvious in God’s Word?
We have a mess.
Take a look around the church today, full of bizarre practices, mutually exclusive ideas, and lukewarm beliefs. We take clear complexity and turn it into conflicting lukewarm platitudes.
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. — 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NIV)
It’s yet another fine balance in the walk of faith, one between how God gives insight to his people—scholars and housewives alike—and how people can be tricked by the enemy to start unraveling, thinking they are rightly dividing the Word unaware they’re actually hacking it up. Instead of discovering the depth of the weaving, they destroy it.
On the surface, that weaving of God’s Word is plain and true, his plan of salvation for everyone, if we’d simply believe it down deep in the foundation our heart. Over time, the layers of the weaving of God’s Word are also plain and true, even though there is more delight in realizing the intricacy of the weaving the more we are exposed to it.
At no time is there a side manual, a reference guide or master theologian or book—a scissors or extra spool of thread—that must be used to understand or rework the weaving. There may be guide books to help understand the beautiful tapestry, but if the guide book requires you to start unraveling it and reworking it to understand it in a “new” way, its author is the enemy.