Thursday, August 27, 2020

Culture and Context

We are attempting this week to look at the question: What does the Bible say? So far, we have started with the actual words that the Bible used and then moved into the culture and context of the characters involved in that particular passage. As I said yesterday, a lot of scholars want to make this harder than it is and tell you that you can't understand the Bible without knowing the history of it, when it was written, who wrote it, what was happening when it was written, and so on and so on until you're so intimidated that you don't even want to try. But the truth is that God has given His Word to His people - to all of them, even those without an advanced degree - and so extremely meaningful Bible study is simply devotional. And that means, we can all do it.

So we'll skip over all the questions the scholars want to throw in at this point and get right down to the next step, which is putting it all together. And that's more difficult than it sounds because it requires us getting real about who and where we are.

When you know what the words say and how they're used, and you know who the characters are and how they heard it, then the next logical step (and the thing you've really been wanting to get to from the very beginning anyway) is to figure out how you are supposed to hear it. What does God want you to understand from this passage?

This requires us to figure out our own culture and context, just like we did yesterday with the historical characters.

On the surface, this seems simple. Isn't your culture and context what drove you to ask the question in the first place? Isn't it just...what makes you curious about this idea or this story at all?

Yes and no. We are complex creatures, and we're very capable of lying to ourselves. We're very capable of living stories in our heads that we aren't really living in our flesh. We're prone to think the best of ourselves, so we overlook our flaws and our struggles and our insecurities in favor of those things that we're more confident about or those things we most desire to be.

But God never speaks to the image we have of ourselves; He speaks to the depth of our authentic heart. So if we want to figure out what God has to say to us, we have to be honest about who we really are, where we really are, and what's really going on in our lives. No facades, no charades. No fantasies or dreams. Just real, raw, authentic flesh crying out.

It's harder than you think it is. (Or maybe right now, you know how hard it is, and you're trembling a little. That's okay, too.)

The challenge is that sometimes, we don't know the answer to this question until God gives us the answer to our question. We don't know who we are until God tells us what we need to hear. So to a certain degree, this step embraces a lot of openness and surrenders the question to God to answer. Instead of trying to interpret and put all the pieces together and figure out what we wanted to hear from it, we just lay all our study out in front of the Lord and let Him piece it together. Our framework that we've put together to this point helps us to understand what He says and to hold it all together. Then, the answer not only satisfies our reveals it to us. We let God tell us what we need to hear, and that sets us off on a conversation about maybe why we needed to hear that.

And it's supposed to. Our study is always meant to draw us deeper into God, to create in us even more of a need for Him. Too often, we think the aim of the Christian life is to come to such a profound understanding of things that we no longer need God to answer our questions, and that's simply not biblical. That's not the relationship that God has ever had - or wanted - with His people. So surrendering the question to God is great because it makes us more dependent upon Him in the answer, rather than less, and that's really the heart of the Christian life.

So there you have it - what does the Bible say? It starts with its words, moves through its context, and comes into our context, and we can say with some confidence, what the truth of the matter is. We know what God says about something. We can put our foot down and stand on a revelation.

But keep one foot up in the air because we're not done yet. (I told you this question isn't so simple.) One more very important step is coming tomorrow. 

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