If we are bound to search after what our Lord means—and he speaks that we may understand—we are at least equally bound to refuse any interpretation which seems to us unlike him, unworthy of him. He himself says, “Why do ye not of your own selves judge what is right?” Some misapprehension may cause us to refuse the true interpretation, but we are none the less bound to refuse and wait for more light. To accept anything as the will of our Lord which to us is inconsistent with what we have learned to worship in him already, is to introduce discord into that harmony whose end is to unite our hearts and make them whole.
He requires of us that we should do him no injustice. He would come and dwell with us, if we would but open our chambers to receive him. How shall we receive him if, avoiding the judging of what is right, we hold this or that daub of authority or tradition hanging up on our walls to be the real likeness of our Lord? We may close our doors against the Master himself as an impostor, not finding him like the picture that hangs in our oratory. Better to refuse even the truth for a time, than, by accepting into our intellectual creed that which our heart cannot receive, not seeing its real form, to introduce hesitation into our prayers and a misery into our love. If it be the truth, we shall one day see it other than it appears now, and love it because we see it lovely; for all truth is lovely.
by Stephen Carney
“If we are bound to search after what our Lord means-and he speaks that we may understand-we are at least equally bound to refuse any interpretation which seems to us unlike him, unworthy of him.” I often say that God is as good and as kind as we can imagine him to be. The truth is he is even more kind and good than we can imagine him to be. For even the wrath of God is kinder than the kindness of men. If Paul's words in Romans 8:28 tell us anything, it is that God is working and “working all things together” for our good. If it is all meant for good, that is for the saving and redeeming of humanity, then how can one interpret even the most difficult passage of Scripture to imply that God is less than kind, let alone a tyrant? I think there are a few reasons for misunderstanding God:
First, I think we misunderstand him because we have a tendency to project upon him and his words our life experiences. The earliest concept we get of God comes from our childhood. Our earthly fathers and mothers are God to us when we begin this life. It is common for us to apply the earthly, even carnal, attributes of our human fathers and apply those characteristics to our new understanding of our Eternal Father. If we had an angry, tyrannical parent then, when we hear of the wrath of God, we transfer the wrath of that earthly parent and project upon our heavenly Father. We fail to understand that earthly bears little resemblance to the heavenly. For this mortal body “is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body...” We make the mistake of applying the broken characteristics of those we grew up with upon God himself. The wrath of an angry father is equated with the “wrath of God.” The two couldn't be farther apart! For men often punish because they are angry, or simply because they wish to inflict pain. But God is ever trying to free us from those dark things that drain our hearts of love and peace, and that make us mean, small, petty creatures. If his ways are misunderstood by us, it's because our ways are often too crooked and self-absorbed to see much beyond our little realm of life experience.
Secondly, there is often an inability to see the bigger picture. Wisdom broadens us, and therefore gives us understanding. One of the definitions of wisdom is “a broadness of view.” Yet, we live in the age of specializations, of people being experts in very narrow fields of interest. It is difficult to understand an infinite God with a finite perception. We, like the blind men, each describing the elephant in the ancient Indian parable, see in part, and not particularly well. For one blind man holding the trunk of the elephant says, “The elephant is like a great snake.” Another, holding the tail says, “The elephant is like a rope.” And yet another, holding the elephant's leg, says, “The elephant is like a tree.” All perceptions bring some description of an elephant, yet the vision is still far removed from the actual elephant. This is what specialization often does to us--it gives a very small picture, which, though detailed, still misses describingthe whole elephant. Doctors can specialize in a particular disease and forget they are treating a patient. This is because one cannot focus on one thing intently without losing sight of other things. Only wisdom broadens our outlook, pulling our head “out of the sand,” for us to see what otherwise we would have been missed.
MacDonald goes on to say, “He would come and dwell with us, if we would but open our chambers to receive him.” The word “open” is significant, as it reminds us of our hearts being closed; closed to all that he is by our trying to understand him in part. Just as with the blind men and the elephant, so also quantum mechanics tells us that for every side of something you see there is a side you don't see. So how then can we see the infinite God if we remain closed to the revelation of himself that he has given us? God knows that reason alone is too shortsighted, and often too narrow, to behold the eternal, and so he comes to us by revelation to give us a picture of what we cannot otherwise understand. He presents himself as Truth, and not as one who knows a truth. Jesus did not say, “I know the truth,” but rather “I am the Truth.” What lies behind the universe is not a scientific theory, but the person of God.
Finally, specialization fractures our understanding, unless it can somehow become part of the bigger picture. But, sadly, that too often is not the case. We have even broken down theology into specializations. We can focus on hermeneutics, soteriology, Calvinism, Arminianism, pastoral theology, ecclesiology, and just about as many other fields as academia can invent. The Hebrew scholar helps us to understand from the Hebrew point of view. The Greek scholar parses a Greek verb to try to understand what God really meant, and a systematic theologian tries to present God systematically and organize our thoughts about him. All of these disciplines are certainly with merit, but without the personal revelation of God to man we lose sight of the big picture, and maybe even of God himself. Breaking a flower down to study its parts destroys the flower, and though God cannot be destroyed as can a flower, our perception of him can be fractured to the point that we have a distorted view of God. Or, as MacDonald says, “We may close our doors against the Master himself as an impostor, not finding him like the picture that hangs in our oratory.” Amen.