While eating lunch with some colleagues the other day I noticed that one of them was trying on the other’s glasses. His prescription was running out and so he was looking at a more “hip” frame for his new eyeglass prescription. Eyesight is one of those weird things that way. Not having ever needed glasses I find it hard to empathize, but from my understanding, once you receive eye glasses your prescription may always be changing (unless of course you take the laser surgery route). And so from time to time one must visit an optometrist in order to see if they need to update their prescription.
This got me reflecting on a conversation I had with a student recently who was troubled by the fact that there are so many different denominations and so many differing ideas about God in the church today. So I asked the student, “Do you think you read the Bible the same way as an African-American woman in Detroit?” (The assumption here is that my original audience was more WASP-y). “What about a middle-aged man in Key West?” The response of course was no. Then I asked the question, “Do you even think you read the Bible the same way you did five years ago?” The answer again, no.
An often quoted verse regarding scripture is Hebrew 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” God’s word is ‘living’. God’s word is ‘active’. And yet, sometimes we find people who are content to read the Bible the same way they did 10, 20, or even 50 years ago. Now I know the argument; God never changes and so His word never changes. And I am not saying that the words of the Bible magically shift and reconstruct themselves. But as time goes by, we learn more about the world of the Bible and the culture behind the voices we read. In his book An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow writes, “They devalue the humanity of the reader or listener by assigning the person a narrow and passive role depleted of the dignity of participation in encounter with the biblical Word which the vitality of that Word itself at once invites and teaches.” The assumption is that taking the words of the Bible at face value without allowing interplay and interaction between our present culture and the ancient culture robs both the reader and the Biblical writer.
Let’s take a more practical approach. Over the years I have collected a few notes and cards from my wife…love letters of sorts. I read them very differently today than I did when I received them. And mainly because our relationship has grown over the twelve years we have been a couple. Don’t you think that as time goes by we would read the Word a bit differently as well? And maybe if we don’t, do you think it might be time to change our lenses?
May we continue to grow in grace as we encounter the living God in his living Word.