Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Signs of the Times

We're looking at how to answer the question: What does the Bible say? But we know that the answer is not as simple as what the words themselves say.

We started with those words, though, to set the foundation for our question and to start uncovering the depth of the meaning of words that are too easy, perhaps, to read right by. The next thing we have to consider is the culture and the context of the time in which these words were written.

This is a question that a lot of Bible scholars try to make more complicated than it really is. They'll tell you that you have to research the book in which the passage is written, figure out who actually wrote it and where there are questions about who wrote it, and think about the time in which it was written. Certainly, there's some value in that in certain situations, but we're not talking about academic Bible research here; we're talking about devotional research. And I don't believe that God intended for His Word to be so complicated and complex that the average heart could not understand it. I don't think God intended for us to be so analytical about things that we need an advanced degree to have any kind of theology at all. So sure, academics are into that sort of thing, but your devotional Bible study is no less meaningful or significant if you don't dive in that far. Actually, it may be better for you if you don't.

Because when we talk about culture and context, the question really isn't as difficult as it sounds. Culture is as simple as asking - where are these characters? Are they in a city or in the country? What do they do for a living? Are they shepherds or are they craftsmen? Is God speaking to them about rivers and streams because these flow through their property or because they've had to cross them to get here? Is God talking about sacrifices to a people who brought animals to the Temple or a people who live in the shadow of the Cross? Culture is just as simple as figuring out what the day-to-day life might have looked like for the characters involved in our passage and discovering how God connects His message to what they know.

Context is just about where we find them in the present moment. What's going on? What are they doing? It's one thing to see God talking to Abraham on the mountain; it's another thing to hear Him talking to Abraham in a new land. It's one thing if God is giving a word to David when he is the anointed king of Israel hiding in a cave from Saul; it's something else entirely if God is giving a word to David when he is caught in the sin of adultery.

On the surface, we know this. We know that it matters what is happening in the life of a character when we encounter their story. But for some reason, when we are reading our bibles, it is easy for us to forget this. We consider God to be the main character of the story, so we think that He's the only one we have to focus on. We think that since God is never-changing, then whatever He says is good no matter what the circumstances are.

But if God loves us each individually, if God is interested in intervening in our individual lives, if God comes to speak to a person and through that person, to His people, then we have to figure out what the touchpoints are for that person. We have to figure out what kind of skin they are putting on God's word at any moment in which it is given to them. Because we have to remember that God's story is not just God's story; it's our story. And at any given time, we are all situated in both - His narrative and ours. We would never say that our lives are any less real just because we discover God in them at a certain point, so we cannot write off the real lives of the characters in our Bible, either.

So the second step in discovering what the Bible says is to figure out who it's talking to - who is this person? What is their life like? Where are they? What are they involved in right now? What part of their story is God speaking into? These things will help us as we move onto the next step of devotional Bible study. 

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