There’s an old story of three blind men who are led to different parts of an elephant. One feels the tail and thinks it’s a paint brush. One feels the leg and thinks it’s a tree. One feels the ear and thinks it is a large leaf. By the information that each person had they made their best judgement. But when they got together and compared information they realized that none of them had the full picture. Then they worked together to find the head which clearly revealed that there was an elephant in the room.
This Sunday, we will begin a journey through the First Testament in our Bibles, exploring 14 different passages. There are common themes in these texts, and all of them are themes included in John’s Gospel (which we will spend the winter and spring studying). To put it another way, we are surveying the First Testament with an eye toward passages that inform our reading of John’s Gospel. Some of these texts will be familiar, others not so much. Some are confusing, some may seem irrelevant to our lives today, and some have been the point of much controversy, both inside and outside the Church.
One of the things I’ve noticed about some of these First Testament stories is that we learn them as children, such as VBS or Sunday School, and then never really consider them in depth as adults. When we think of the story of Moses and the burning bush (which isn’t actually burning…), our mind goes to the flannel graph images and summaries of our childhood Bible class teachers.
I am so thankful for the teachers that taught me to love the Bible! They taught very difficult, adult Bible stories in a way that my childhood brain could comprehend and appreciate. But when they taught me to love the Bible, they taught me to always study the Bible as well. And what I’ve discovered, especially with this portion of the Bible, is that we rarely spend the time studying these texts that we should. And when we do actually study them, or hear them taught at an adult level, there’s a certain shock involved. We remember the faithfulness of people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Miriam. We forget that they were also drunkards, liars, murderers, and extremely jealous. The stories are far more complex than our childhood memories convey. And when we only focus on the children’s story version of the text, we can miss the point of the story altogether.
The issue is not with the texts themselves, but how we read the texts. All of us come to Scripture with existing biases. I read Scripture through the eyes of a white, middle class, married father of three, recently moved to southwest Missouri from West Texas. That is my perspective. Someone who is middle eastern, impoverished, single, living in Europe will see things differently than I do simply because of their background and surroundings. They view the world differently than I do, and that’s a good thing! Just read the story of the prodigal son(s) with someone from an impoverished country. Most of us read that story not realizing that a famine plays an important role in the story, and in the repentance of the son. People who have suffered from famine pick up on that right away.
Proverbs reminds us that there is wisdom in having “many advisors.” If I am looking at something alone, I only see things from my point of view. But if I talk about it with others with different views, I can begin to see more of the picture.
Some have suggested that addressing controversial texts does no good. “It means what it says and says what it means, and that settles it!” But it doesn’t settle things, does it? The greatest clarity of Scripture I have ever found has come when discussing the text with people who have differing views. Though I may not agree with everything they see, I always walk away with a greater understanding of their view, my view, and most importantly the Word of God. Just this week, a new detail stood out to me in Genesis because I was talking to someone about the text. I’ve been on a mission to re-read Genesis 50 times. I’ve spent considerable time with this book, and I noticed something I had never considered before simply because I was willing to sit down and discuss the text with someone. Basically, I missed the point of the text and only discovered this by talking about it.
I have no doubt that God will do powerful things for us over the next 14 weeks, and through us as we study his word together. I also believe that all of us will discover things that we haven’t seen in these texts before. My prayer is we listen to the voices of “many advisors,” reexamine our view in light of others, but most importantly, we consider what the Scripture actually says, and grow in the grace and wisdom of the Lord. And when we do this cooperatively in community, maybe then we will better identify the elephant in the room.
See you Sunday!