Whenever I interact with seasoned Christians and pastors or listen to sermons, I’m always a little floored by how well they understand the scriptures from a historical context. They’re able to connect verses to a bigger world picture for the previous time and squeeze out the extra meaning from specific original languages.
As a writer who has to pay attention to language for a living, I don’t undervalue any of this work. I absolutely believe that you can learn more about who God is from the page. Getting into the Word isn’t optional if you want to do your best and be more reliable in faith as a Christian.
But sometimes, I can’t help myself. I get lost in the feeling that somehow we’re arguing over that phrase or this one too much, or that we’re dissecting God the same way we would a science journal.
Neither far- or near-sightedness gives a clear picture
There is a balance, I think, between knowing God from the heart or the page. I described it once to someone else as though we have two pictures of a person in front of us, both of the same size. One is out of focus save only for a single spot that reveals, let’s say, a medal. We can barely make out that the picture is of a person, but we can see exactly what the medal is for or says. The other picture allows us to see most of the image, and we can make out it’s a person, but with no real details — we can’t see the medal clearly. Or put another way, it’s a bit like near- and far-sightedness.
Neither of the above pictures is all that great because they don’t reveal everything. And so our impression of what’s in the image can be skewed.
In the same way, the core or nature of God isn’t all that complicated. The Good News — that Christ loved us and gave His life for us so that we would never be separated from the Father if we have faith— is one sentence kind of simple. There are no addendum or hidden clauses to that message, and understanding that can help you interpret everything else.
I think about that a lot when I remember how, when parents brought their kids to Jesus for blessings, He was able to take them in His arms. They didn’t know or apply all the details yet, but they knew that He was an accepting, safe place, and so they didn’t squirm or arch their backs to get out of His grip (Mark 10:13–16). They were able to trust Him without worrying about any ulterior motives or protocols, and all they had to offer on their own was an open-hearted hug.
That is, I believe, what Jesus meant when He said we won’t enter the kingdom unless we receive it like a kid — freely, without fear or doubt, just as we are, with a sense of belonging, happiness, and bold confidence in knowing He’s got us.
Yet, sometimes we need to focus on the details. The story of Noah looks a lot different if you understand he was on the ark for a good year instead of just the 40 days of the flood, for instance (Genesis 7, 8). And Peter’s story of denial might not feel so significant or miraculous if you didn’t know that Jesus had told Peter exactly how many times he’d claim not to know him (Matthew 26:31–35, 69–74).
Dig deep and be still
It’s a tough challenge, to be as scholarly as you are friendly or empathetic. But without this balance, we’re in danger of foolishness and will struggle to teach others who He is. It profits you nothing if you can recite every verse and still live as a hypocrite, yet we shouldn’t pretend that others will look just to the way we live our lives for evidence that we value and understand our faith.
So we have a responsibility to dig deep and read, to study, and to seek every connotation or context. But so, too, do we have an obligation just to be still and know that God is God, to close the Book and have a conversation with Him that no one else can have. And we must never mistake having knowledge of Him in our heads with having knowledge of Him in our hearts. One verse at a time, one prayer at a time, the picture will get clearer.