The Problem of Interpreting Scripture Through our Emotions

Growing up, and far into adulthood, there were several things about the Bible that I did not understand. Invariably in each instance, my confusion generally began and ended with the insertion of my emotions into my reading, my value judgments onto the text.

Post-modern pastors do this a lot from the pulpit. They often begin each little talk they give with a story about themselves, grab a verse and then invite the audience to put themselves in the verse. Us looking to Biblical stories for examples is not wrong, per se. Us completely misunderstanding that the Bible was written for us, not about us, that is a pretty big flaw.

As a child, I first encountered a problem of doubt created by inserting my emotions into the text in Sunday School. All of the Old Testament stories repeated the theme of Israel being a chosen people, and of God doing things for or speaking with ‘his people.’ My second problem centered around the Parable of the Prodigal Son; “it is not fair”! I always thought. Lastly, as a child and a large fan of stories of the old West, I had serious questions about the idea that the only way to salvation was through Jesus; how unfair to the Indians I thought.

It took me years to understand the ‘chosen people’ thing. I had to go to college, study history, and become a fan of studying civilization and culture. I finally came to understand what ‘Judeo-Christian’ heritage meant, and how that was intrinsically tied to Western civilization. If you take that out of the equation, you no longer have Western civilization as we know it; different art, architecture, laws, and history. Likewise, if you take the Judeo part of that equation out, you really can no longer have the Christian part. Jesus said that he was all in the Old Testament and that it was essentially about him. The Old Testament is referenced many times in the New. Without scribes that diligently worked to ensure that every space, period, and vowel was faithfully and accurately copied, over numerous centuries, we would not have the Old Testament. If for no other reason, God needed a people to reveal to and to transcribe and pass down the Scripture. There are other reasons, but that one is sufficient enough to answer why God needed a ‘chosen people.’

A child misunderstanding the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not uncommon; particularly for a child with siblings. The problem begins and ends when one stops listening to the story at the point where the Prodical returns and the father clothes him and feeds him. If one but reads on, it is clear that the true and faithful son was not slighted. I stopped listening for years as a child mid-way through! I let my emotions take over.

My last objection, “what of the Indians”, well that is more complex, and frankly, man does not have an answer because the Bible does not tell us everything. It does tell us of the nature of God and it does say that Jesus is the only way.

Now look, do not take what I am about to say too far, after all, we only know what we know. But in addition to the above, we know that God gave us general revelation, built into the creation. We know he wrote natural law into our hearts, the hearts of all men. Those are facts that our faith, that the Scripture and our metaphysical view tell us. One thing that is not settled is eschatology, Christians mostly agree that so long as one’s eschatology does not produce a bad Christology, we can agree to disagree within a set of options on the end of the age of man sort of things. Some views of eschatology would perhaps have an ‘out’ for people that never heard the Word (key words there), could never know of the Revelation of Jesus but lived by the natural law; something like a second chance to choose and follow Jesus. We do not know. We only know God is just and there are many mysteries we are not provided answers to.

What all of the above does not mean is that Universalism is correct, or that once a person has access to the final revelation they can choose to ignore it and “just be a good person”. It does not mean we get to make up our own doctrines to fit our emotions because you know, God is love (and only love…).

My faith is big enough to understand that things I do not understand still make sense, my ignorance has zero effect on that fact. My discernment tells me that my emotions, my heart is very often wrong and that it is a terrible voice to ask for help understanding theology.