Perspective changes things. From one angle something can seem small and insignificant. From another, it can appear large or even dominant. A small pebble on a beach can appear to be a large boulder, with the distant sea now merely a backdrop.
We have a great deal of choice about how we look at things. We can skip over the details and take in the wider picture, or we can get in close and examine the tiniest speck. Changing perspective means we have to do something about it – we need to move.
This can also be true about how we “see” things in our lives. Our current perspective will cause some things, whether they are events, people, ideas or something else, to look either larger or smaller. Their apparent importance and impact may vary depending on how we are looking at things at the time.
A shift of perspective might enable us to realise that we’ve been caught up too much in the details, or maybe we’re so obsessed with the big picture that we can’t see the small things any longer. Either way, a change of perspective might help us to appreciate differently the balance of elements in our life.
Faith in and the desire to follow Jesus helps bring about new possibilities for shifting our perspective and seeing life in new ways. Looking at things (as far as it is possible) from God’s point of view can open our eyes to a whole new set of priorities. Some things increase in size and importance, whilst others diminish.
What seems important or “big” in your life right now? Is there anything you may have lost sight of? Have you tried moving, changing your perspective? Through prayer and openness to the Spirit, we can learn to see in new ways.
Life is a mixture of elements, some of which are more transient, others more constant. At times it is easy to become so distracted by the changing elements that the whole picture of our lives looks blurry to us. We are so aware of the uncertain, shifting areas of our life that we think we are looking at chaos.
Yet, there are also constants. These hold the picture together in balance, giving a creative tension between movement and rest. They help reveal what is changing, whilst showing that not everything is.
When we find ourselves staring too long at the movement, we may feel disturbed and unsettled. If we rest too long on the unchanging there may be an absence of adventure, drama and a sense of progress and growth. Appreciating the harmonious interplay of change and constants can help us to realise that not everything about who we are is up in the air just because an aspect of our life is changing. There are still constants. Similarly, we cannot forget that we do and in fact need to change.
Different parts of the picture of our lives will move at different speeds. Instead of getting carried away or worried by the parts that are moving faster than we are ready for, perhaps we can step back and see a more balanced picture, with God as the artist.
How balanced do you feel about your life at the moment? Does it appear merely chaotic or that everything is moving at once? Can you find the constants in your life?
When we feel we are drowning in chaos, our One, central Constant is God Himself. If we look to God, we can begin to see balance restored. Perhaps ask God to reveal His presence as your Constant, taming the apparent chaos of your life.
Why do/should we read the Bible? Does it matter how well we know the stories and history, or is that a secondary concern? This post is the first in a series about “Journeying with Scripture”. It is an opportunity to explore further how and why we read the Bible. It will also uncover some of the thinking behind the Bible study books “Journeying With Abraham” and “Journeying With Nehemiah” and how they might differ from other approaches.
For many generations, their first encounter with the Bible has been in the form of stories told to them at Sunday School. These are often the stories with the most action and appeal for children. Some will even remember having had tests or exams on these stories to make sure that they had absorbed all the details of who did what and when.
This approach largely reflects the common education/learning ethos that has prevailed (at least in the UK) for some time: imparting information. Whether it be lists of words in a new language, historical dates, the periodic table or mathematical formulae, education has tended to focus on the giving of and the ability to reproduce information. This has been true not only for children, but has persisted into realms of adult education, including sermons.
Now, clearly this has not been the sole purpose of learning, nor is it an aspect of education that will or needs to go away. However, might it be that the tide is changing and a slightly different focus is emerging, one that new generations may experience and that we may learn from? It seems, at least in some sectors, that information is dropping down the priority list slightly in favour of enabling skills that help people to handle information, think for themselves and grow into well-rounded human beings (in theory anyhow!).
Simply knowing things does not necessarily do the job of equipping us for life. It is an important part of growing up and continuing to learn, but facts and information can so easily slip into “mere theory” or something that can be compartmentalised away, ready for regurgitation at the appropriate time, but not doing anything in the meantime.
How might this apply to our Bible reading and studies? Many traditional approaches involve focussing on reading comprehension – learn who the characters are, what they did, maybe consider historical concerns – then at the end seek to draw out a moral principle, perhaps by posing a vague question as to how this story is relevant to us today. A “good” Christian may even be defined by how well they can regurgitate the information they have been fed – who are the twelve disciples, the twelve tribes of Israel, etc.
Yet, despite the good that learning this information may potentially do, there is a real danger that it is hived off from the rest of life. It may go into an information box that we can call on when quizzed, but doesn’t necessarily do anything the rest of the time. Is the Bible there so that we can learn a load of facts? Isn’t it perhaps more important that it functions as a means of grace through which God may transform us?
Information may of course lead to transformation – this cannot be denied. But, maybe we can work in such a way as to facilitate transformation more readily. Maybe if we engage more personally with the stories, rather than keeping them at arms’ length, and if we keep on asking what it means to us now rather than postponing that to one vague final application, we might help ourselves be more open to ongoing change at God’s hand.
All of us do in fact involve ourselves when we read. We bring our assumptions and theological frameworks and experiences to the text each time we look at it. We can’t help it. So, perhaps we should bring ourselves to the stories in a more conscious way and not pretend that we can look at things in a detached, objective way. Perhaps we should consider how our experiences and ideas are similar to or differ from the characters we meet. Perhaps we should admit that we are reading the Bible with an agenda – to grow into the people God wants us to be. Then, maybe we can and should go looking for how the stories help us to become those people by raising questions, setting examples and more.
Yes, it is easy to get blinded by our own involvement in the reading process and make mistakes in our interpretation and think God is saying something when actually it is only our minds looking for what they want to find. But, if we come with a humble attitude, ready to be challenged, to ask questions and have questions asked of us, then the Holy Spirit can use our muddled attempts to nevertheless mould us and shape us in Christ’s image.
So, if we come away from reading or studying Scripture unable to recount all the details of what we have read, does it matter? If we remained unchanged, unchallenged, not comforted or spoken to, then maybe it does. But, if we emerge as different people, if we have been drawn to see ourselves in a new light, if we have met God, then surely that is what matters and not how much information we have absorbed?
If we take a highly information focussed approach there is the danger that stories become too familiar and we think that we know what they are all about as we’ve read them or heard them many times before. Perhaps we have heard the same application before. Maybe we think we are mastering the text, becoming masters of theology and are all the better for it. But, are we?
Perhaps we are becoming more and more entrenched in one way of seeing the text and don’t realise that it is our way and that we are possibly becoming closed off to seeing it afresh or in new ways that God has for us. Maybe if we focus less on achieving a certain level of knowledge that will help us to keep humble. Maybe if we focus on discerning what God is saying to us at the moment through the text then we can be open to hearing something else at a different time.
The idea of “Journeying with Scripture” is that we remain travellers who are always open to discovering new things, to learning and growing. We may pass familiar landmarks, re-visit favourite spots, but there is always something new to see. Think of places you have been – you may get to know them well, but they are always slightly different each time you go there. Part of the reason is that you are not the same each time you go. Part of the reason is that there are things there you haven’t noticed before or a different part is being more clearly illuminated as the light that day is different to last week. Maybe this metaphor can extend to help us think about our relationship with Scripture.
Next time you read the Bible, why not try focussing less on information and do less of a reading-comprehension style approach. Instead, try to engage with the story, the characters, your life and God through a mixture of approaches. Use your imagination, empathy, experiences, prayer and critical thought as well as historical knowledge, other passages and more to help you to create an ongoing “dialogue” between the ancient text and the present day. If you haven’t already done so, start a journey with Scripture, seek to be transformed as well as informed.
You may find that the “Journeying With…” series of Bible studies are helpful for your own private study or for your group, especially if this method is unfamiliar to you. Each book focusses on trying to help you engage as fully as possible with the Scriptures, being concerned with a lived out faith with many opportunities for you to explore and apply what you read to your own situation(s). You won’t find many reading comprehension questions, but you will find a lot of questions!
How knowable is God? How like God can we be? If we are in the image of God then why do we seem so unlike God much of the time?
As human beings, we are created in God’s image and designed to bear that image, somehow reflecting God to all around us. By our likeness to God we are to make God known to the world. In Christ we are to grow in likeness to the one who is the perfect image of God in man. But, is this a simple linear development? At what point do we stop taking on God’s qualities?
God is different from us. As well as being revealed to us in creation and most specifically in Jesus, God is at the same time also concealed from us. God is not a man, nor is God a physical entity like anything we know from our experience of the world. We can never fully understand or know God as our minds are just too small.
Theology is built on a great deal of analogy and expanded metaphor. God is said or shown to be like something we know, but then the boundaries of our previous knowledge are shown to be too small when we come to consider God. We can understand something of “love”, but when God is said to be “love”, this challenges our pictures of love. In what sense is the love of God like or unlike our experiences? There is both a sense that, yes God is like this, but God is also so much more.
Each metaphor, each analogy or image can help shed light on who God is. Yet, because they are limited not only by our humanity but by our cultures and even our personal thought processes they fall short. For example, God is like a loving father, but at the same time God isn’t a loving father in the sense that we have ever known. Likewise, God is like a king, but also unlike our ideas of what it means to be a king.
The potential danger behind the very useful side to Christian spirituality that speaks about us being like God and growing into God’s likeness further is that we think we’ve got God figured out too much. Little room may be left for mystery. It is problematic simply to take human concepts or attributes and assume that God is just a nice neat version of them. It is dangerous to assume that we can become so God-like that we no longer see the distinction between Creator and the created.
So, perhaps we might benefit from bringing a little doubt into our theology, allowing room to say “I don’t know” and space for God to move outside of the boxes we try to put everything in. Maybe we could say that as an image of God, we are a little like a reflection in a river. We will never be the real thing, but depending on how good the conditions are, we can bear a good resemblance.
Yes, the water will be disturbed sometimes and the reflection become less distinct. But, even when blurred, it is still a reflection of the reality that lies beyond. At the same time, the reflection may reveal much of the truth, but it will always be just a reflection. It is like but also unlike the original.
How happy are you with the idea of aspects of God being unknowable? Can you see how using metaphors and analogies brings clarity yet also leaves openness with unresolved tensions? Do you think that your ways of thinking about God are too limited, too human or do you perhaps worry that you stress the otherness of God so much that you feel you don’t know God at all?