Are we listening to what God is really saying?


For the week of August 16, 2014 / 20 Av 5774
Torah: Devarim/Deuteronomy 7:12 - 11:25
Haftarah: Isaiah 49:14 - 51:3

Back to the Source

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And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 8:3)

I have had the privilege of discussing the Bible with members from a wide assortment of faith communities. Many of those conversations have been helpful. Different perspectives help provide insights that I would never discover on my own. At the same time, these discussions also reveal how we all tend to understand Biblical truth through various filters which skew our understanding of Scripture.

Some of these filters are personal. Personal filters are extremely difficult to detect and disregard. This is where diverse community can be very helpful. As we interact with one another, our personal filters can become more apparent, giving us the opportunity to correct wrong thinking.

Other filters are community based as they are derived from our congregations, denominations, and movements. Like our personal filters, they can be difficult to detect, since we become accustomed to interpreting Scripture through the definitions and interests of our groups. Some of us may pride ourselves in being objective critics of our communities, but let's not fool ourselves in thinking we are inoculated against community filters. For example, while we may distance ourselves from our own community's filters, we might buy into the filters of other communities through our favorite writers, for example.

Some faith groups who adhere to Biblical truth are explicitly committed to their community filters. This is the case in both Catholicism and Judaism, where Scripture is never to be interpreted apart from tradition. Many Protestant-based groups take exception to this approach, allowing for fresh interpretation of the biblical text. The Evangelical position in particular encourages the rethinking of past interpretations, believing that the community is empowered by God to discover the meaning of the text. Be that as it may, my experience is that whether or not our faith groups are aware of our community filters or not, we all have them more than we might care to admit.

To whatever extent we are aware of our filters, personal or otherwise, God, through Moses, calls us to make every attempt to see through them. One of the key lessons the people of Israel were to learn through their wanderings in the wilderness was to live by every word that came from God's mouth. While this might be a way to refer to all the commandments given through Moses, there is something about the expression that calls us to always go back to the source-to get back to what God is really saying. There is no way to be forever rid of the filters through which we read the Bible. To pretend that we don't have any is delusional. It is also dangerous in that when we deny our filters, we claim we are representing God's own pure word, when we are not. We thus misrepresent God and mislead other people, not to mention ourselves.

Still, the goal should always be to get to what God is really saying through Scripture. Scripture like all writing has intended meaning. It doesn't mean whatever we may want it to mean. God speaks through his written word. In order to heed what he is saying, we need to strive for accuracy in understanding. While we will never do this perfectly, with God's help, and the help of one other, we can hear him more and more clearly.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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