And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:19-21
Monday, August 4, 2014
It's Always Personal
I was raised in a good old Southern Baptist country church. The Bible was considered the Word of God, and as having what is technically called “full verbal plenary inspiration”. If the King James Version was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it was good enough for us. I learned the Scripture as a kid the same way that I learned history, the state and federal constitutions in school. I don’t ever recall being an atheist or even agnostic with regard to the existence of some kind of spiritual reality. Materialism made no sense to me, and the first time I read about the Big Bang, I immediately reconciled it to the Bible and equated it to God speaking creation into existence.
What I wasn’t sure of for a long time was Christianity, especially Christianity as it had been preached, taught, understood, and practiced by my good, church-going hillbilly family, friends, and neighbors. My friends and I would sit around drinking beer and smoking dope talking about Jesus as someone worthy of respect and emulation while rejecting the pale, frowning, foreboding image presented by our elders. I changed one day as I was sitting at the little, round kitchen table we had in our trailer where I was reading “A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary” in Miracles. I started going to church.
Within a few months, I was not only attending church three times a week, I was teaching. Generally, I was teaching from a Sunday School quarterly, and, other than adding my own rhetoric flourishes, metaphors, and illustrative stories, I stuck to the doctrinal points in the lesson. Where I would get into trouble was in talking to people off the cuff over lunch. I have heard many times the King James Version of verse 20 above: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. Often it was said this way, “Yes, but remember, there are no private interpretations.”
What the speaker meant is that a) you have to be careful about applying a verse to a specific situation in the world – something with which I agree, or b) trying to understand Scripture in a way not perfectly consistent with the generally accepted understanding and application is a bad idea – something with which I disagree. Even if I am wrong, this particular verse does not endorse that view. What Peter is saying is that Scripture is not something made up by a person to serve that person’s ends, like the Book of Mormon or the Koran. With apologies to any Mormons or Muslims that might happen to read this, that’s what I believe else I would be a Mormon or Muslim. Right?
As far as I can tell, revelation is always personal and individual. By that, I do not mean to imply that I disagree with any basic doctrine of Christianity or that I think there is any way of salvation apart from the Cross. If God doesn’t speak to us personally, we do not know God. If God speaks only to the congregation and the revelation is only corporate then I do not see how an individual experiences salvation apart from being initiated as a member of the corporate body. Indeed, this seems to be what is taught by some churches. I don’t know that any denomination puts it exactly like that, but such a statement would be consistent with their practices.
To me Scripture is a carrier of revelation. I’ve told the story before of how I had that experience of connecting to Christ and asked my wife to pick up a new Bible for me. The one she bought was a KJV like my old one, but more compact, about 4” by 6”, and no red letters or references. When I started reading it, I was astounded that someone had the audacity to change the Bible. I was so convinced that it was different that I dug out my old one to compare it. The difference in the revelation was like night and day. But the words were the same.
I can read the same verse that I read ten years ago, even a passage that I studied in depth or taught on, and, today, I will find a whole new level of meaning and understanding it. And I will sit here and say, Now I see what it really means. Ten years from now, if I should still be living for some strange reason, I will likely read it, see something new, and say the same thing. It is like what Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3:21-23 -- But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
God’s revealing of Himself is a continual – we might even want to say an evolving process. In any long-term relationship with real friends or with a spouse, with children and parents, there is always this kind of newness and discovery. If that isn’t there, the relationship can falter and breakdown. It doesn’t mean that a person needs to get a divorce or abandon a friend or never call home, but it does mean there is less joy and meaning in the relationship. We may remain loyal and faithful out of decency or a memory of what once existed.
With us as imperfect people the loss of interest in a bond of love can usually be blamed on both parties to a greater or lesser extent. When the bond is between us and our Father, I’m pretty sure the fault lies all on my side. It is important for us to continue to pursue God and never accept the rigid view that knowing all the doctrines of the church means knowing all there is to know about Christ.