The other night as we were doing a family bible study I fell into a very common trap. I put God into a box. By that, I mean that through my understanding, experience, knowledge, and feelings I unintentionally limited God’s power. I innocently took God’s omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent nature and placed Him into space with boundaries and limits. It started innocent enough with loving debate amongst my wife and myself regarding a video we had watched discussing covenantal theology. This lead to us both researching covenantal theology and its counterpart dispensationalism. That was when the conviction hit me! It was the same conviction I had felt a couple of years back when listening to two very close friends debate Calvinism vs. Arminianism (free will vs. predestination to be exact). In all of our calculations, word dissection, and verse searching we left out one very important factor. The limitlessness of God’s power, something that we as mere humans cannot fully comprehend. What may appear to us as opposing ideologies are not necessarily at their core conflicting.
As humans, it is natural for us to read into things and we do it all the time in our everyday lives. Whether it is reading the body language of a coworker or anticipating our significant others thoughts, we take our knowledge, experience, and feelings and try to use it to benefit our current situation. However useful this is or is not in our everyday life is a debate for another day, but when it comes to studying scripture, we must be diligent to avoid doing this. Being objective in our study of God’s word is imperative. We must put aside our feelings, experiences, and worldly knowledge to fully benefit from our time in scripture. We must be careful to extract information from scripture and make our situation conform to it rather than trying to conform the meaning of the scriptures to fit our situation.
My journey to begin reading scripture objectively versus the all too natural subjective style began after reading the R.C. Sproul book Knowing Scripture. Sproul digs into the importance of reading scripture objectively in great depth, and I highly recommend reading it for yourself. Although this journey began a few years ago, I have come to realize that this is a skill which requires many years and much discipline to master. Even though objectivity is always at the forefront of my mind when studying scripture, it is very easy to fall into the trap and read through our worldly lenses as I did the other night.
I believe that the first thing we must keep in mind is that there is only ONE author. If there is only one author than there can be only one meaning, this sounds like a simple statement however even within the church body this is not widely understood. Yes, God used multiple men to pen His word but, scripture in its entirety is inspired by God or “God Breathed” in its literal translation. Therefore there cannot be conflicting opinions.
There is a great little comic that has a number drawn on the sidewalk in chalk and on either side of the number is a person looking at the number. Above their heads are two word bubbles, one reading “6” and the other reading “9”. Now from their perspectives they are both right, however, this does not make both of them correct. At some point, someone wrote the number on the sidewalk and to know what the meaning was you need to have more information. The only thing that is for certain is that there is only one correct meaning, right?? Yes & No. Overall there is only one meaning because there is only one author and this is what I believe the artist intended to illustrate. However, when we add into the equation that God has limitless power, knowledge, and is not attached to a physical and temporal plane in the manner that we are, there are some things that appear to be conflicting that are not necessarily conflicting — using the example of the comic what if the person who drew the number wanted to make a statement and fully anticipated the two opposing views? What if the artist was not finished and plans to return and we only see one piece of the work? There are so many alternatives to this train of thought, and that is just with the human perspective in mind. Once you add God’s limitless power to the equation, the possibilities are unimaginable, literally.
Going back to my friend’s debate of free will vs. predestination. These appear to be very conflicting viewpoints at surface level. However, if we take a step back from our understanding and accept that both viewpoints are represented in scripture by the same author as inerrant, then they both have to be correct. The fallible piece in the puzzle is us, we are unable to understand God fully and if you do not believe that just put ten theologians in a room and ask them to explain the Holy Trinity. There are just some things that we are unable to comprehend fully, and that is ok. What is not ok is when we try too hard to understand these things, and we limit God’s limitless power. Energy much better spent following the very clear message in scripture to make disciples of all nations, an area we are falling very short.
My hope for the church body is that we would focus our battles on the things that matter, leaving behind the things that don’t. I pray that we would recognize the almighty nature of our Holy God which includes the areas that we as humans will not be able to grasp while still on this earth fully. That we are disciplined in our study remaining objective rather than subjective and using the scriptures to form our beliefs rather than bending the scriptures to fit our way of life. And that we would simply let God out of the Box!