One of the things I've quickly re-encountered (very unpleasantly) as I've launched back into the realm of spiritual debates, is how puffed up and righteous people get about their personal interpretations(particularly on God and Biblical context).
I hear things like "Oh well that's not the context, your taking it out of context" and "Well lemme explain what that means"...as if said person has been given the ability to interpret the Bible 100 percent how God intended, to those of us that are just "stupid lil' doubters". They automatically assume that they understand perfectly the context of which the authors of the Bible and God meant. And for you to assume anything other than their "correct understanding" appears tantamount to spitting God in the face (and reading Harry Potter books of course ;-)).
But after hearing the word "context" for the billionth time, you begin to wonder what it even means? Let's be lazy and ask dictionary.com shall we?...
|1.||the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.|
|2.||the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.|
|3.||Mycology. the fleshy fibrous body of the pileus in mushrooms.(maybe some of these people I've been debating with have been dealing with these said mushrooms a bit too heavily before hand? hehe)|
We see here that "context" basically means how a statement is used by the person who states it(most obviously). If you want someone to understand the context of what your saying, you want them to understand what your intentions and situations that surround it. For example, your friend just gets a brand new XBOX 360 given to him, and you have wanted one for a really long time yourself. When he tells you the news, you would say (well, I would sure say) "Dood, you suck! I hate you!!!".
Now you don't really think he sucks(or why are you his friend?) and you don't really HATE him(in fact you'll probably be begging him to play the 360 only moments later). And your friend will probably not run away crying like an emo child because you hurt his feelings by saying so. Why is this? Because of the CONTEXT....the context being that you were saying those things out of a bit of harmless, friendly jealousy. However if his girlfriend walked in the room right as you say "...you suck! I hate you!" she might be confused as to whats going on and possibly think your in an argument with your friend based on the words you said, not understanding the context of your "friendly" jealousy that would have been very obvious probably moments before...and that we would call a "misinterpretation". Makes pretty obvious sense so far, right?
So now that we've (hopefully) cleared the water on what context actually is....why do we as Christians automatically assume we can "correctly" understand a 2000 year old, divinely-inspired text in its entirety? The most common argument I find is something like:
"OH!! Well son if you read the Bible and are TRULY listening to the Holy spirit, you'll get the CORRECT interpretation! My interpreta-...I mean errr...God's interpretation!!! Yeah!"And I can agree with that in part...we should be listening to the Holy Spirit beyond just what we think the Bible is saying to US personally. But if that is all one must do to understand the exact intent of every verse in the Bible, why are there (around) 30,000 denominations of Christianity in the world today? Are 29,999 denominations simply "blind" to the intent of God and the authors of the Bible? Is there only ONE exact way to look at a passage of scripture and ONE exact way to teach it in order to be "in line" with God? I would say, no.
I feel like so many times we Christians are like the girlfriend in my analogy above. Except were walking in on Jesus talking to a bunch of people sitting on a rock. Or were walking in on Paul writing a letter to a Church in a specific time, several thousands of years ago in a particular situation. Not only do we have an issue of understanding the "exact" intention of every verse in the Bible...but we also have an issue of understanding the language usage of a people thousands of years ago, many times translated and modernized.
And so many times we take verses out of that...and use them to mean things they may never have been intended to mean, even though it may be the "established" typical interpretation. At the end of the day...human interpretation is still....human interpretation. And I cant seem to convince myself that a "imperfect by nature" people can fully understand or interpret a "perfect by nature" God. Its not to say that we shouldn't even TRY to understand the exact context or intention...quite the contrary. We should learn from God as best we can through reading the Bible, but also not limiting ourselves to the interpretations of the mainstream Church or other people.
In closing I want to share a wonderful little song by a Christian band called As Cities Burn, called "Clouds". You should buy their album, "Come now, sleep". Basically, the lyrics go like this:
"Is your love really love?
Is my love really love?
I think our love isn't love,
Unless its love til the end. Is your God really God?
Is my God really God?
I think our God isn't God, If he fits inside our heads."
A lot of times we have all these perceptions of God and His Word, and all these ideas we've developed, but if we contain him STRICTLY to the understanding that WE have come to know Him in this human life, then is it really a transcendent God we believe in? If God truly is greater and wiser than us, which I believe that he is(and that means even greater and wiser than the authors of the books of the Bible) then there will ALWAYS be that percentage of Him and his knowledge/workings that remains untapped by our human minds.
So why not be at least open to other interpretations other than your own?