All this talk that we have about needing experts to help us interpret the Bible correctly suggests that there actually is a correct way to interpret the Bible - one correct way. What persons who tell you you're doing it wrong are really afraid of is that you're going to come to different conclusions than they do and that perhaps that might challenge their faith.
But what if I told you that there's not just one correct way to interpret the Bible?
It sounds like heresy, I know. Scholars are right now jumping up and down in their studies or rolling in their graves, depending on their current physical disposition. Pastors are holding their breath, waiting to see what I might say next. Many of you might be ready to give up on me, but perhaps you'll keep reading for just a bit.
There are very few things, if any, in this world that have only one correct interpretation. Take literally any human experience, ask a handful of humans about it, and you will receive a handful of varied responses. Is that to say that only one person is correct about the human experience and the others are mistaken? Of course not.
It is to say that we are each unique individuals with our own history and perspective on the world and that we encounter things in different ways.
Watch a movie with some of your closest friends, then talk about it afterward. My guess is that when you talk about it, your friends will bring up things that you didn't notice at all and you will mention some things that were quite important in your opinion, but that your friends missed entirely. Generally, this means that we watch the movie again - both to point out the things others missed and to try to catch the things our friends said that we missed.
Go to a party. Now, ask others at the party what they thought of it. Chances are that someone will rave about the food; someone will complain about it. Someone else will talk about what so-and-so was wearing, while yet another individual will talk about the dog they were petting all night. Is that to say that one of you attended the party and the rest of you missed it? Of course not. You were all at the same party, but you had very different experiences of it based on what you engaged in and what you're naturally drawn to. It doesn't diminish the party that everyone took their own enjoyment out of it. Not in the slightest.
Think about the last church service you attended. When you're walking out of the building, someone might be talking about a song that really touched their heart, while someone else is talking about something the pastor said in the sermon and yet a third person remembers strongly a prayer that was said. Would you say that the person who enjoyed the song missed the service entirely because they aren't quoting the sermon? Or that the person enamored by the prayer had a diminished experience because they didn't sing the song with much gusto? Of course not. Everyone came and got what they needed.
When we read a book, certain things jump off the page at us, and others seem to slide right by. Talk with any of your friends about a book that you both have read, and you'll be surprised to find that you have very different impressions about what was important in that book and how it contributed to what happened. You both might understand the general plot of things, but the way you get there in your heart and mind might be very different - even with the same words to digest.
If we know that every experience we have is filtered through our own perspective and experience and we understand that it doesn't change the fundamental nature of the experience itself, then why do we insist that the Bible can only mean one exact thing and that if we're not all on the same page, we've missed it? Or we're in error? Or we must be heretics?
The truth is that the Bible will speak to us each in different ways. And it is supposed to. We can all read the same story and come away with different ideas about what it means, and that's okay. Actually, it's more than okay - it's good. It gives us the chance to have a fuller perspective of God than if we were limited to only our own understanding, or only one understanding that maybe we aren't equipped to really understand.
I know - it still sounds a bit like heresy. But stay with me. Because I promise it's not.