This past week we had a great time at the Cor Deo Intensive. One of many highlights was studying sections from John’s gospel together. What became clear as we worked through John 5 was how the religious experts in Israel seemed to have selective sight when it came to their Bible reading.
These were people who didn’t just know a few rudimentary facts. They would have studied and memorized and quoted the Hebrew Scriptures all the time. Yet they seemed to see only certain things there. When Jesus stood before them they didn’t recognize who He was or from whom He had come. Technically they were experts, but they were flawed by a lack of the love of God in them, combined with a love for the praise of men. Somehow issues of motivation marred their vision.
Over on my preaching site I have posted on the subject of “which God” we preach (Here are the links to three posts – 1 2 3). One man commented that he was once in Cairo talking with a man and after a couple of hours it became very clear that the “one true God” each was affirming belief in were two very different deities. That’s how I feel in churches sometimes.
There are some people who look in the Bible and all they seem to see is law and duty and God’s power and His sovereignty. God seems to be a very distant and cold task master that must be dutifully obeyed in order to receive the glory He craves. Yet in the very same passages they seem to be oblivious to the motivations described, the compassion or delight or love of God. It gets to the point, at times, when I wonder if we are talking about the same God.
Ron’s suggestion to the gathered folks last week was simple but spot on – read the Bible fast enough to get a real sense of God’s personality. Read the whole Bible, not just selective verses, and read it with an openness of heart and mind to see the God who reveals Himself through it. To too many Christians God is essentially an impersonal force, an ultimate being, a faceless judge and a hidden power broker with nobody else in His league. Consequently, this impersonal God paradigm filters their Bible reading so that no matter how many times a passages screams God’s heart to the reader, they still only see duty, sometimes where there isn’t even an imperative to be found.
It is like two sports fans watching the same match, but supporting different teams. It’s amazing how the same pictures will be interpreted so differently! Of course, I’m the exception to that as I always watch my team objectively. Oh wait, that’s actually a silly thought, isn’t it? Makes me wonder what biases I bring to my Bible reading that might be blinding me to the personality of the God who reveals Himself through the Word. Theological, philosophical, relational, parental, experiential and sin issues that all go to smear the lenses through which I read the Bible.
So we come back to the original issue in John 5 – the religious experts’ blindness to the personality in the Old Testament. I wonder if some of us still have that sense that the God of the Old Testament is harsh, but His nice Son becomes clearer in the New Testament. I suppose the best way to get past such errant thinking is simply to pray for eyes to see, and then to dive into the Old Testament with a hunger to know God personally and better.