“Sometimes it seems that the clearest meaning of Scripture is the one that reinforces our own comfort zones.” Anthony Le Donne
When it comes to the study of Scripture, we can be certain of one thing. If it doesn’t move us out of our comfort zones then we may be doing something wrong. If the biblical text doesn’t challenge our mind, our hearts, and the way we live our lives then we can be certain of a couple of things: One, we’re not spending enough time in prayer as we study the text and two, we’re not letting the text shape what we believe.
When it comes to prayerful study, it’s not a matter of praying the text or praying over the text. It’s a matter of praying that we will let God speak to us through the text. That doesn’t mean we should expect an understanding of the text that no one else has or has ever had. It means that we let the biblical text have its way with us so that it shapes our thinking. Not that we attempt to shape the text by our thinking.
Granted, shaping the text by our thinking is much easier and certainly more comfortable. We feel at ease letting our presuppositions on the text lead us. But we gain little when we approach the Bible in that fashion. Too often we come away from the Bible’s message with very little “So what?” and a whole basket full of “So, I already knew that.”
As I’ve mentioned before, the class my wife and I attend is going through the Book of Galatians. It’s a fascinating book. It’s also a book ripe for misunderstanding and confusion. Concepts and words like Law, believing, works, grace, justification and the like spill over on the page and challenge us to think in new ways. Most of us live in a Western culture that seldom expresses those ideas or uses those words consistently or accurately, even in church. In addition, most of us, like those receiving Paul’s letter, are Gentiles. Our life has not been centered on the Law nor has it been seasoned with words like circumcision. The concept of covenant circumcision, its implications and meaning, is foreign to us outside of biological maleness. (Not to mention how all that might apply to women who believe.) The fact is, we are forced not only to learn a new vocabulary, but a new understanding of how God relates to his creation through those and other significant words.
If you’ve ever sat through a study of Galatians, it is often said that no one is “righteous” when it comes to the Law. That keeping the Law is impossible. But the Bible seems to indicate otherwise. Luke tells us that John the Baptist’s parents were “righteous before God and blameless according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord (Lk 1:6).” Paul, in his own testimony says “…As to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Is there tension there? If so, how do we manage that bit of tension?
Furthermore, we might remind ourselves that the scope of the word “righteous” in the Old Testament is not so much the idea of perfect under the Law. Rather it reflects more the idea that those who commit themselves to God, by faith, seek to live in obedience according to the Law and are therefore deemed righteous. Isn’t that what we’re all supposed to do as Christ-followers—flesh out our relationship of faith through obedience?
Let’s not recoil when it comes to being challenged by the biblical text. There’s no need to be reticent when it comes to our questions. We don’t need to sit by and be content with pat answers or clichés. We’re free to remove our blinders and dig in. The Bible needs no defender to shore up its authority and veracity.
Coming to the text with our proverbial rose-colored glasses can certainly help us maintain our comfort zone but it does little to expand our full understanding of the Bible.