As we approach the Bible there must be an attitude of humble balance. It’s easy to take extremes. To find allegory where none was intended. To take thing so literally that reason must be abandoned. To allow all kinds of meanings because the Bible is “spiritually discerned.” To become so tribal or “campish” that we only accept those portions which support our understanding. We must balance our understanding in a way that is humble, faith-filled, and reasonable.
To humbly understand the Bible is to recognize that we don’t have all the answers. In many cases, we are reading someone else’s mail. We are missing the real-life context and previous communication between author and audience. Perhaps we should remember God’s response to Job’s accusations – “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,” (Job 38:4, NASB95) I don’t understand it all, but God does. I can be and will be wrong in my understanding, but God isn’t. I cringe at Bible teachers and preachers who refuse to say “I don’t know.”
There is much in the Bible which is taken on faith and trust. Without faith and trust the Bible is impossible to understand and devoid of lasting meaning. Paul wrote, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:13–14, NASB95) In this, we must recognize which articles of faith are required. Those are the unchangeable aspects of our faith. Our views of the end times, the creation, church government, and justice are important but not central to our faith in Christ. God’s existence, humanity’s fallen nature, Jesus’ incarnation and death and resurrection, the work of the Holy Spirit, the offer of salvation, and the final judgment are central unchanging articles of faith expressed in the Bible. I’m also wary of those teachers who major on the minors or raise minor points to the status of foundational truths.
The Bible is also reasonable. God invites us to reason with Him about the most fantastic articles of faith. The Bible says, “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, NASB95) The impossibleness of undying a cloth is met by the possibleness of God. The impossibleness of repaying our sins is met by the possibleness of God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
God’s invitation isn’t to simply take it on faith but to reason with God about it. God invites us to ask questions. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8, NASB95) Faith may not seem logical but add God to the equation and faith becomes logical and reasonable.
Found in the balance of humility, faith, and reason is a hermeneutic of tension. That “h” word simply means the preconceptions we use to interpret the Bible. Tension allows us to balance Biblical truths which seem at odds with each other. One such example is the Biblical mandate to love God in one corner with the mandate to fear God in the other corner. How can we love God and fear God at the same time? So, over the history of the Church folks have gravitated to one or the other. Perhaps not totally ignoring the other but rarely considering it or pushing it off to some far distant past or future. But the hermeneutic of tension invites us to hold both truths at the same time.
I like to use the example of a guitar string to illustrate this. For guitar strings to make music they must be in tension. One end anchored on the bridge, the other on the nut. A turntable shaft called a tuner allows the tension to be balanced until the exact note is found. When we put the love of God in tension with the fear of God what notes emerge? What truth becomes more evident? What I hear is the truth of relationship which reveals the father heart of God filled with love, wisdom, and discipline. That’s just one example of tension found in the Bible.
We end where we began with a call to embrace humility and reasonable balance as we read and study the Bible. In the final verses of Revelation, there is a stern warning about adding to or taking away from the words of the prophecy (Revelation 22:17-19). In context, the warning applies to that mysterious book, but I also see room to apply the same warning to the rest of the Bible. Most Jesus followers wouldn’t dream of removing a book or adding a new one. But we must be careful or we’ll achieve the same thing by ignoring, rejecting, or devaluing some passages because they challenge our preconceptions. A reasonable balance is only found as we embrace it all. This leads us to the topic of our next and final article in this section of The Basics in which we’ll consider the authority of the Bible.