Often times I hear pastors tell the people of their congregation to “pray for understanding” while reading the bible. Indeed it seems to be an oft repeated suggestion, but one that, I feel, is slightly problematic in that it creates a desire for mystical interpretation where there is none to be found.
It is my belief that the bible is quite understandable if you just read it. I have said repeatedly that the bible is written with both literal and figurative, or poetic, language, and it shouldn’t be too difficult to decipher which is which. Literal language should be taken literally. Jesus is the son of God. Noah built an ark and loaded it with animals. Angels appeared to people on several occasions. Though some might say these are symbolic references, since, in their own minds, these could not possibly have REALLY taken place, they are not written as such.
Poetic language can be open to some interpretation. Again I recall the discussion a group of us men had over the parable of the mustard seed told by Jesus. There was some varying interpretation of the meaning of the tree and the birds between the lot of us, but what Jesus told was a story for the understanding of the people, and not an account of an actual event.
I don’t think it’s wrong for pastors to suggest praying for understanding, but what I think it does, sometimes, is prompt people to look past actually understanding a verse of scripture in hopes of finding some type of underlying, mystical understanding when there is none. Instead of reading and understanding Jesus wept, they will ponder and fret over the REAL meaning of the words, all while hoping the holy spirit reveals to them the underlying message. Jesus wept. Its not that hard to understand.
Where it really seems to be a problem is when the bible directs us in something specific. Women, be subject to your own husbands, Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church. Is there an underlying meaning there? Do you need to ask God for understanding on something so straight forward and clear? Whole books have been written about both of these commandments, and yet, just reading them should be all that is needed, shouldn’t it?
This post is not specifically in reference to those two commandments, but those are just the first ones that came to mind.
What kind of difference would we see in American Christianity if people just read the bible and understood the parts that are easy to understand?
This morning’s biblical ponderings have been brought to you by Rock Star energy drinks, the Society for the Listening of Final Fantasy 7 Soundtracks and the ‘Man I hate installing software’ foundation.