Have you ever been in a relationship in which everything you say is misunderstood? It’s as though the other person has a built in bias to misinterpret you:
- You say their new tie is attractive. They wonder if you are buttering them up in order to borrow fifty bucks.
- You privately mention that their plaid, pink tie clashes (in the tiniest way) with their striped, orange shirt. They think you are a critical jerk.
- You say nothing at all about their new tie. They figure you are a self-obsessed narcissist who never notices anything about anyone else.
A built-in-bias prevents them from hearing what you have to say because their hearing is filtered through their agenda. They only hear what they want to hear.
Well, we are that biased, agenda-driven person, only we misinterpret what God says. We read scripture through the lens of our purposes, and we overlook his purpose.
We are missing the boat to a rich life with God, and boarding a dinghy to relational hell.
The misread purposes
Our personalities and training bias us to read scripture through these lenses:
- Doctrinal. We primarily read scripture as a handbook for how to think. Francis Schaeffer, a leading 20th century Christian thinker, claimed that his biggest temptation was not temptations of sensuality but temptations to abstract theological truths. Thinking-oriented people see the Bible this way.
- Behavioral. We primarily read scripture as a guidebook for how to act. We see the Bible as God’s guidelines for human behavior. It is about the right and wrong of actions. Legalistic-oriented people read scripture this way.
- Inspirational. We primarily read scripture as a manual of inspiration. The normal course of human life brings difficulties which result in pain. We just feel bad. We read the Bible as an emotional supplement to bolster our feelings. Feeling-oriented people read scripture this way.
Please don’t misunderstand me (and, by the way, that is a very nice tie you are wearing). It is only in scripture that we discover true doctrines, right behavior, and great inspiration.
They just aren’t the primary purpose of scripture. These misinterpretations thrive because they are so close to the real purpose. They just aren’t it. The best counterfeits are the ones closest to the real thing. They just aren’t it.
So what is the Bible all about anyway?
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus meets two doctrinally-weak, behaviorally-confused, emotionally-depressed disciples. He challenges their truth, changes their behavior, and brings them a joy. How does he do it? He reviews the scriptures and explains that the Bible is all about him:
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27).
Jesus says, “All of scripture is about me.” The Bible is a self-portrait painted by God.
Scripture is God’s revelation about himself. THE BIBLE IS NOT ABOUT US! It is about God. It’s not about our pet-doctrines, personal behaviors, or feel-good inspirations. First and foremost, the Bible is God’s self-revelation. He’s showing us who he is.
Until we understand that the Bible is about God, we are lost.
Jesus claims that abundant life is simply in knowing Jesus (John 17:3). It’s knowing a person. It’s not dogma, behavior, nor just inspirational feelings. C. S. Lewis said,
We come to Scripture not to learn a subject but to steep ourselves in a person.
The four gospels are obviously about Jesus; of course. They’re filled with his birth, life, death, and resurrection. But can we really “see Jesus” in other places, like the law, or proverbs, or stories of early heroes? Jesus said all scripture is about him.
Are the Psalms about us?
We can easily see Jesus in a few, messianic Psalms; he is the Supreme King (Ps. 2, 45, and 72) and he is the suffering servant (Ps. 28, 55, 102). But what about all those other “normal” Psalms, like these verses from Psalm 71:4-5,
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
At first, these verses are inspiring. We ask for God’s protection from injustice. We cry out that he is our hope and trust. From our youth. The verses seem about us.
But wait a minute. I merely want him to be my hope and trust, but the truth is … well, I’m really not so hot at making him my hope. Instead I place my trust in my ideas and street-smarts. There is no one—not one saint, man or woman—in the history of the world who has fully placed their hope and trust in God. Every human has failed.
Only Jesus really placed his hope and trust in God, and Jesus did it when he was in the hands of the wicked and in the grasp of the unjust. Only Jesus trusted from his youth. Not you nor me.
In this Psalm (and all the rest), when we are honest, we merely see our failure. This Psalm cannot be about us. If it was, what hope do we have? Because we fail all the time.
But Jesus didn’t only die for us, he gave the life he lived to us. When God looks at us, he sees a person (Jesus) putting all his hope in God in the time of his deepest darkness. Read the Psalms with Jesus in mind, understand the beauty of Jesus given to us, and we have no need to despair at our weakness.
When we see Jesus in scripture, we see perfect truth, righteous living, and inspired communion with God; but now it is personal and no longer abstract.
Or let’s look at Old Testament characters
Sure, some Old Testament characters are types of Jesus, but can we see Jesus everywhere?
- Jesus is the true brother Abel who was innocently slain, but whose blood cries out for our acquittal not our condemnation.
- Jesus is the better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave the comfort of the familiar and go out into the world.
- He is the real Jacob, who wrestled with God and took the blow of justice we deserved so we—like Jacob—only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up.
- Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord, and who mediates a new covenant.
- He is the better Job, the only, truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for his friends.
- He is the better David, whose victory over Goliath becomes his people’s victory, though we never lifted a stone to accomplish it ourselves.
- He is the true and better Esther, but who said “When I perish, I perish.”
- He is the true Jonah who goes into the belly of hell itself so the people could be saved (I heard much of this list in a series on preaching by Tim Keller).
Try an experiment with me
Try to see the person of Jesus in your scripture study, or look at these passages:
- Read the story of Joseph, and ask God to reveal Jesus (Gen. 37, 39-45, 47).
- Read Psalm 56, see Jesus, and recognize the gift of Jesus’ life to us.
- Read the Good Samaritan, and try to find Jesus (Luke 10:29-37).
Seeing the heart of Jesus in all of scripture brings the peace we desperately need. Our hope doesn’t depend on how good we’ve been (let’s be honest, we screw-up every day); our hope depends on seeing Jesus.
(And by the way, did I mention that tie really brings out the color in your eyes.)
© 2013 Beliefs of the Heart