We See in the Bible What We’re Told To See

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Have you ever seen this video? Watch it and follow the instructions carefully…

If you’ve seen the video before, you know what to look for, but if you have never seen the video, you might have been shocked at what the end of the video revealed…

I think that sometimes, the way we read the Bible is similar.

We have been taught by books, pastors, seminaries, and Christian friends for so long to read the Bible a certain way and look for certain truths in Scripture, that when someone comes along and says, “Yeah, but did you notice the gorilla in the text?” we reject such an interpretation and say, “No! That’s not there! I have read and studied the Bible for years and have sat through countless sermons, and since I have never heard that idea before and no pastor I have listened to has ever brought that up, it must be wrong! I went to seminary and never heard that in any class!”

And yet, maybe we missed what is really going on in the text because we have been counting the number of times people in white t-shirts pass the ball around. Just as we only see in a video what we are told to look for, so also, maybe we only see in the Bible what we are told to look for.

Maybe I’m only talking about myself.

For the past 7 or 8 years, I have been struggling with Scripture. Some days it almost literally feels like I am wrestling with the Bible. There is all my theological education on one side, screaming at me “Count the number of times the people in white t-shirts pass the ball!” and then there is a still, small voice over on the side saying, “Yes, but did you notice … ?”

I’m trying to notice. I really am. But it is so hard to retrain the mind to see and hear something else.

uncle andrewI was reading The Magician’s Nephew to my daughters last night, and there is a part in the story after Digory, Polly, and Uncle Andrew witness the creation of Narnia where C. S. Lewis explain why Digory and Polly could understand what the Narnian animals were saying but Uncle Andrew could not. It all began when Aslan was singing Narnia into existence and Uncle Andrew convinced himself that the lion was not actually singing, but was only growling. From there, Uncle Andrew’s logic carried him the rest of the way, so that by the time he is surrounded by curious Narnian animals, all he sees is dangerous, brutish beasts who want to eat him. Lewis says that by that point, it would have been impossible for Uncle Andrew to have ever hear the animals talking.

As I read this, I felt like I was Uncle Andrew. There are things I feel like I have believed for so long about God and the Bible, that I am not sure I could ever un-believe them, simply because I have believed them for so long. Try as I might, and despite all the people speaking into my life (and even the still small voice of God), I find it extremely difficult to believe something other than what I have believed my entire life.

Like what?

I’d rather not say.

Last time I wrote about some of the things I was having questions about, I lost my job…

That’s why for now, on this blog, I am going to have to steer away from my series on the violence of God and write about something I feel a little more confident about.

Namely, Calvinism.

I ran a survey earlier this week, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Over 98% of you want to know more about Calvinism, and specifically, why I am NOT a Calvinist. So, I am going to start that series on Monday.

Just so you know, however, I will still be trying to see the gorilla in the text. I will try to believe what some have been whispering to me, that “animals talk” and that the Lion is not going to eat me.

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Comments

  1. Stephen Butler says

    I totally get ya man. I am wrestling too. That’s a good thing I think! Also, the first time I saw this video, I was so intent on catching the amount of times the team in white passed the ball that I missed the surprise! I couldn’t believe it! Haha. Thanks for always making us think. I appreciate your thought on Calvinism. I used to be keen on it, not anymore. I look forward to your posts in the future.

  2. Stephen Butler says

    The first time was in a college training session. It was pretty hilarious when one of the basketball coaches said, “wasn’t there a __________ in the video? I could not believe I missed it.

  3. Brian P. says

    A more fascinating metaphor!

    I’ve seen this video before. I believe the context in which I’ve seen it before is in the skeptical community. Recently, there’s been pop psychology theme in the skeptical community around ideas such as these: Doubt your senses, at least don’t assume they have foolproof abilities. And question your biases; observe not just what your observing but your observations about what you’re observing.

    Riddles, optical illusions, and types of psychology tests all contend for means by which one can help understand why it might be beneficial to even question what one questions. Neurobiologists are just beginning to explore relationships between sensory perception’s ability and areas of function in the brain.

    One can’t help but wonder how these cognitive capabilities and limitations have been ever present to not just us, the readers of Scripture, but to the authors and characters of Scripture themselves. Consistently, authors lens meaning and metaphor through their contexts. If one reads for nuance, one can see the contextual significance of things such as the ancient Mesopotamian pantheon, or the Babylonian worldview, or the Hellenistic influences.

    There’s a way of thinking that centers knowledge in comfort of certainty and fear of question that this way of curiously gazing upon the world puts at disease. It’s not easy to be an explorer. It’s not easy to see the world through multiple constructs.

    The ball-passing psychology experiment is much in the tradition of other psychology experiments. Consider one of the earliest, the Rorschach ink blot test.

    What does one see?

    In many ways, an ink lot test is a shibboleth.

    In many ways, an exegetical tradition is a way of seeing a set of texts and especially its harmonizations and meaning-makings that bears a degree of similarity.

    One does one see in Scripture?

    The honest answer tells at least as much about the reader or listener as it does about Scripture itself.

    Is Scripture merely means to know God? Or is it also means to know self and to know the unknowable other and outsider too?

    In what ways is Scripture like a mirror? We’ve heard that now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we’ll see face to face. Now we know in part; then we shall know fully, even as we have been fully known.

    Who will we come to know?

    I will show you whom you should know: Know him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, know him.

    Look into the mirror, deeply.

    • says

      Thanks, Brian.

      Interesting idea about the ink blot test. I wonder if Scripture functions a bit like an ink blot test… and thus, like a mirror (as you point out). I am definitely going to have think on this further. I think you are on to something here!

      • Brian P. says

        Not just Scripture as ink blot test, but consider playing in your mind with God as ink blot test and religion as ink blot test.

        As such, why not make every effort to enter that rest? What if the word of God were living and active? What if it were sharper than any two-edged sword? What if it pierced until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow? Could it actually be able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart?

        Alas, imagine all being laid bare.

    • Brian P. says

      I believe what your pursing might be close to what Paul Ricoeur calls the “Second Naïveté.” Consider investigating him. Here’s a bit of a primer: http://www.exploring-spiritual-development.com/Paul-Ricoeur.html

      Somewhat related to all of this, in The Jesus Way, Peterson himself specifically says:

      “The way of Jesus cannot be imposed or mapped — it requires an active participation in following Jesus as he leads us through sometimes strange and unfamiliar territory, in circumstances that become clear only in the hesitations and questionings, in the pauses and reflections where we engage in prayerful conversation with one another and with him.”

    • Nancy Crompton says

      The Message has helped me as well. When you read the same translation you have always read, it is very difficult to see any differently.

  4. Ian Johnstone says

    Jeremy, I completely sympathise with this. I found that by putting down the Bible (and other Christian literature), in fact, leaving it alone for ever increasing periods. Helped me to hear and focus on what Jesus wants me to hear above the clammer for our attention. Yes, this is part of our spiritual food. But, it is not the whole meal. Say, it is lunch or even dinner. Eating the same thing over and over eventually will lead to indigestion and boredom. I understand, that for academically driven persons this can be a big challenge; ‘what, no reading?’ Yep, try it. At first it is really difficult, like detoxing. Then, the gaps are filled by the questions and enquiries and the still quiet voice of the Lord re-arranging your thoughts, discussing the options with you and arranging them into a pattern. Remember, the early church had no bible to refer to, they relied completely on the Holy Spirit………..

    • says

      Oh my. That is a challenging idea. I have grown up thinking (and taught for years and years) that regular Bible reading is more important than a good diet and exercise. But I think you might be right. I need to detox a bit… not from Scripture, but from what I think Scripture is and teaches.

  5. Jesse says

    Jeremy, just wanted to let me know how much your blog has encouraged me. I’ve been asking many of the same questions and coming to similar if not identical conclusions. Thanks for posting. I look forward to the Calvinism discussion.

    • says

      Thanks, Jesse. You are an encouragement to me as well. Every reader is, and every person who leaves a comment encourages me greatly. I often learn as much from you as I hope you learn from me. I consider you all friends.

  6. Sam says

    Ah, yes. Shadows of “The Dark Tower” and “Till We Have Faces”. Someday perhaps they will say “Can you understand how they ever thought that?” Do we live in an illusion? IF so, was it made for us, or did we create it ourselves? Do we stand on terra firma, or merely on mists we have imagined to be solid ground?

  7. Shifera says

    I did not miss the gorilla( I saw the gorilla), but I counted 18 times the people in white shirt passed the ball… what does it mean?

  8. jonathon says

    I lost track of the count when I saw the gorilla.
    (How many times did the gorilla touch a ball?)

    ###

    Something I’ve noticed whilst writing my book (_500 Methods of Studying The Bible_), is that the different methods of Bible Study shed completely different responses in what the text means, implies, and suggests.
    Using one mode of Bible Study, a verse that supports TULIP using the method of Bible Study outlined in _Institutes of the Christian Religion_ refutes TULIP, using the the method of Bible Study advocated by the non-denomination to which the moniker _church of Christ (Mutual Edification)_ is applied.

      • jonathon says

        >Is there any hope for unity?

        I think so.

        One side effect of the research I’ve done in writing the book, is that when somebody presents 10K verses to support their claim, I can write a short reply: “Thank you for providing so much scriptural support that conclusively proves my position, and demonstrates that your position has no basis in scripture”, and, if challenged, go through each cited verse, and, using one or more specific techniques/methods of Bible study, show how the cited verse either refutes the position they present, or supports the position I present.

        Unity comes, when one does not look at the text, with the idea that it means “x”, and only “x”, with zero possibility that any other meaning is possible, much less probable.
        You have to treat the Bible as onion — layers of meaning over layers of meanings. The text means “x”, but it also means “y”, and have you considered how it also means “z”?

        That said, some methods of Bible study are for more amenable to theological bias than others. Cherry picking verses without context is probably the most common example.
        Slightly more subtle is judicious selection of the translations one uses.
        For an even more subtle bias,select the specific source Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic/Latin texts that are the basis of the translations one uses.

        • willow says

          How complex does it have to get until you realize that you have to look beyond the book.

          In your gentle, seeking way, with your Bibles wide open, you tell God what to teach you. With quiet self-will you are like beginners who imagine they know what they need to learn.

          Jeremy is right “We see in the Bible”, and you focus so hard we miss seeing God.

        • willow says

          That last comment came out all wrong, and it wasn’t meant to be directed at Jonathan but a certain type of Christian faith that places the Bible above God. I get frustrated and tangled up trying to find a way to communicate. People are stuck in a problem but won’t look beyond the problem to find a solution, hence they stay perpetually stuck. There seems no way to explain because they are caught in fear based belief.

        • jonathon says

          >That last comment came out all wrong, and it wasn’t meant to be directed at Jonathan but a certain type of Christian faith that places the Bible above God.

          For some types of Bible Study, Willow’s comment “came out all right”.
          The method being used quite literally gets in the way of knowing what the text means.

        • willow says

          That was a kind comment Jonathan, as my comment was a disaster. The problem I’m stuck in is how to communicate something that by it’s nature “can’t be accepted”. It’s very kind of you to forgive my blundering and listen patiently. Lutek’s comment about over-thinking and being over anxious is also true. I’m motivated by a deep love for God, and I want to help my Christian friends look outside of the BIble to find Him. I just lack patience and wisdom, but I’ll try to grow.

        • says

          I like that response to lists upon lists of verses. I might have to use it…. ha!

          Yes, seeing the layers of Scripture is important, as well as the surrounding context. So critical! Humility never hurts either.

      • Lutek says

        Some thoughts on achieving unity, for what they’re worth:

        Feel the love.
        Listen – to everyone, not just those who seem to agree with you.
        Listen before you speak.
        Think before you speak.
        Don’t over-think. Feel the love, instead.
        Don’t restrict yourself to just one source of information or one interpretation of any source. Millions of people CAN be wrong sometimes.
        The Bible is hard to understand, but God isn’t hard to know. Just feel the love. Keep your eyes on the prize.
        Give the love.
        Speak from love, not for yourself.
        Forget about yourself. Don’t worry.
        Listen.
        Feel and give the love.

  9. Dean Norton says

    I watched it for the first time and just barely saw the gorilla as it moved out of the circle of players, and then my counting stopped at about 10 I think.

  10. says

    Solomon tried to set his mind to understanding everything, and look where that got him. There are times it’s good to back off something and let God show you in His own time, on the off chance you’re ever ready for the knowledge. But that’s probably what you’re doing with your violence series.

    I’m looking forward to your calvinism series. I’ve never bothered with labels too much, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to learn.

    • says

      Thanks, Cathy. Yeah, my wife wisely said much the same thing to me this morning. I have fought the idea that I just cannot understand it, but maybe that is where I am supposed to be right now.

  11. Kevin Hansen says

    Uncle Andrew made a choice to only see what he saw and to hear what he heard. Keep looking for the gorilla in the text. Keep challenging the status quo. The design of Satan is to isolate and neutralize. You are not alone in your thoughts, struggles or ideas. Keep helping Christians to open their eyes and ears. To be engaged individually. After all, what truly stands to be lost?

    • says

      Thanks, Kevin. I am still searching, looking, hoping, studying, reading, discussing, and praying. You are part of this conversation, so thank you.

      I hope to get back to writing on how to understand the violence of God, but I just really felt like I needed a break. I was dreading doing the research and writing, and that is a miserable feeling.

      • Kevin Hansen says

        Breaks are good. Time to refresh, and recharge. Could also give a chance to see something new, perspective adjustment. Refresh in Christ’s love and grace!

  12. Clive Clifton says

    Just revisiting this, I find many Roman Catholics who leave their Church to try out others, really struggle with cutting the ties of their indoctrination and stop going to any Church. When they become I’ll they will call The Father to pray over them. Jesus said “never call anyone Father”.

    All other religions indoctrinate their flock, the trouble is they have got a shepherd who is dressed in wolf skin. Deception is one of many weapons the devil uses to draw us all away from The Truth.

  13. Moriel Gidney says

    Oh boy. people travelling along sharing the journey of questions and faith – my church for the moment maybe. Born into a family where my lovely dad was a Baptist minister. Years of heading children’s work in the Church yet failing to find love that inspired my children to believe and instead partly finding people who were threatened by my ‘naive’ but rather vibrant faith. Chlidren go it but not some of the adults leading the Church.
    Yet please don’t get me wrong – it is not MY faith – it is the vibrant love of God that pours into me and naturally out like a hillside pool fed by a waterfall – it is held for a moment but as more water/love comes in, so some has to leave! I loved this picture and it is my faith inaction and the whole experience is worship as I reflect to other the love God has shown to me and this is in a way worship.
    My questions that burble? – Oooh Moriel, not going to church?????? Ah yes, love, but if you look at life and the Bible life is not just about love but about justice….and what is this love in the face of losing a child, or being told you have cancer.
    Aaaagh – neither of those do I have but I do have challenges that show the dilemma of life – and always, for me, in the midst of things that challenge the very insecure core of my being at times, God sends little drops of gold encouragement to see me on my way. Naive it may seem but my father had a debilitating atrophy of his muscles that affected his breathing and eventually killed him and his faith shone to the end so I am not talking in ignorance.
    Sorry, once again I go on.
    I believe that God whispers to me that the Day Nursery I run from my house with my daughter is a church in His vision of Church – a place built on love, supporting staff children and families, yes a business, but one run for love, providing wages to live, to support charities too and to enable me to have a break every now and then – but God is not yet overtly mentioned other than in 1:1 conversations where I share my faith (more than I ever did in Church).
    Lots of question – Jeremy, keep going, I have not had time to look lately but you are an encouragement as I journey with your thoughts, those of Brian McLaren (We Make the Road by Walking!) Richard Rohr and friends in the faith. You have learned background that I do not and so I value your perspective.
    Do not be discourged, hold firm to what God is calling you to explore for us. ‘Church’ includes the internet – ‘fellowship’ can be FB-like. (Facebook)
    Thank you. Sorry to have gone on so!

    • says

      Thanks, Moriel. There are so many questions that so many people are asking, and so many of us are afraid to ask them because we think we are all alone in our questions, and if we ever voice them, some tell us these are “taboo” questions…. I am glad you are asking them and seeking to follow Jesus in love!

  14. Nancy Crompton says

    “As I read this, I felt like I was Uncle Andrew. There are things I feel like I have believed for so long about God and the Bible, that I am not sure I could ever un-believe them, simply because I have believed them for so long. Try as I might, and despite all the people speaking into my life (and even the still small voice of God), I find it extremely difficult to believe something other than what I have believed my entire life. ”

    This is definitely where I am. I have been a “believer” for a long time but I have been miserable. I stopped going to church a few years back because I realized that a lot of what I was learning there was wrong. I have been a good little church goer ever since I was a baby. How do you un-do all of those years? I am still working on renewing my mind and this is such a difficult struggle, And because of this struggle, I slip into despair at times. I am still trying to get a handle on how much God loves me. I feel very hobbled.

    I could say more . . . . . Most of the time I am in a lot of pain.

    Jeremy, Thank you for going out on a limb and pushing the envelope when it comes to questioning what you believe about the scripture and about God. It is so refreshing and so necessary if any of us is going to get out of the trap of “thinking as usual”. Please, upset my apple cart. Spill it out so I can start fresh! Break up all of those ruts in the road of my mind so I can forge ahead on a new path because the way so many of us have been told to think is not working. God, help me!

    • says

      Thanks, Nancy! I don’t know how to un-do all those years. I too struggle with despair and depression at times. It is difficult to not look back and instead, to simply press on toward the future. Friend like you (both online and offline) help.

      As for upsetting the apple cart, I myself am tired of always picking the apples back up off the ground and putting them back in the cart, only to have it tip over again… My current series on Calvinism is to allow me some times to just let the applies lie on the ground a bit. Maybe some of them will sprout into trees…

  15. says

    Hmm….for those who choose, if you’ll pardon the reference, to ‘take the red pill,’ I think our relationship with the Bible becomes complicated. I know for me, it has been a wrestling match (with periods of rest between rounds) that has been going on for several years.

    Although I did not attend seminary, I did study the book intensely and had begun a denominational course with an aim toward ordination…..I grew up in church and the Bible was central. The first time I attempted to read it from start to finish, I was 11 and must confess to bogging down in Numbers. :)

    Hmm…hadn’t thought of that before. Ironic that 33 years later, after exiting a church that more closely resembled a cult that anything else, my first crisis with the text was from Numbers 5. And at that time, after 8 intense years of immersion in that book and teachings about it of a particular flavor, I had to lay it down and not look at it for 2 years. It took that long to get to a place where I could read it it (did not matter what translation) and not hear my former ‘pastor’s’ voice….my mother’s voice…..a religious voice.

    That was 6 1/2 years ago and I find myself in a place where I am wrestling with the book again. It is so full of contradictions…..and for me, the biggest is the conflicting presentation on the nature of God… or more accurately, maybe, His character…..My latest focal point of wrestling is Job…..and it is mostly concerning how it presents God in the first 2 chapter……it sounds like someone who agrees to let someone he presumably cares about (Job) be put through living hell for what appears to be the sole purpose of winning a bet with Satan. Lately, this has struck me as being more in the character of the old men in the movie “Trading Places” than the character of a loving Father/Creator.

    And where both of these wresltings have led/are leading is not what I would have expected….it does require more reliance on Him and not words on paper. But it is also releasing me from the bondage of those ink strokes….to see that He is not bound be those ink strokes and does not bind me by them, either. A new layer of freedom form religion….:)

    • says

      Thanks for sharing part of your journey. I am with you in the difficulty of understanding how God acts in certain portions of the Old Testament.

      I really like what you say about how He is not bound to those ink strokes, and how we must learn to trust Him more than words on paper. Thanks!

  16. Dino Costanzo says

    This debate has been the craziest part of my christian walk. I did not even know that this debate existed, until 3 years ago. I have been a member of the EV Free Church and also attended A Church of Christ for 2 years and started at the Pres Church USA. Never picked up on 3 different ways of seeing things. My son Nic, who will be showing up soon, is very devout on his bible study and made me aware of what I have been missing??? I look forward to all the input that will follow. Jeremy, I hope you can see that you are where the Lord wants you right now. I learn a little more about you as I go thru the whole site( a little at a time) and you are quite prolific as a writer. Weather you get it all figured out is probably not important. What will be important is all the lives you are helping getting it figured out. From what I have been reading is nothing, but stimulating from you and those that are sharing. This is a good thing, any way you slice it.

    • says

      Thank you for your encouragement, Dino, and for reading various parts of the site. As you do so, you will definitely discover that I do not have it all figured out! Ha.

  17. Ward Kelly says

    I think people are programmed throughout life to accept dogma. Creative thinking to solve problems doesn’t seem to be as highly prized in American society as it once was. Public school systems across the nation are instituting “Common Core” educational standards so as to program children to think along the same lines.

    As a Libertarian leaning person, I often wrestle with close minded partisans who will not think outside the box due to their party programming. The MSM doles out “news” designed to create a person who thinks in a certain way.

    I was engaging with an atheistic evolutionist over the last couple days trying to get him to look outside the secular evolutionary box he was living in and he refused. Was he comfortable in his box? Did he have prejudices about those outside the box? Did he have fears about the ramifications of even thinking outside the box?

    I think sometimes Christians fall into the same modes of thinking. Were they trained a certain way and refuse to deviate? Do they not want to move outside their circle of group think? Do they fear what others inside the box think of their questioning the inside the box thinking? Or do they fear the ramifications of thinking of what’s outside the box?

    Jeremy, I like that explore outside the box…it forces me to think about scripture in ways it may never have occurred to me.

    • says

      You are right that Christians often fall into the same modes of thinking. I know I struggle with this all the time. I often wonder how much my theology would be different if I were born in Africa, or even in a “Pentecostal” family, etc.

  18. Dino Costanzo says

    I agree with the above comments. I would venture to say that this sort of explains human reasoning, and it doesn’t matter what side of the spectrum you are on. We have a tendency to want and accept dogma. From the Old testament thru the New, it seems that the acceptance of dogma kind of caused all the problems.

  19. Dino Costanzo says

    Also another note, do you all realize that the time spent reading and studying scripture that has been done by the individuals on this blog is daunting compared to how many actually spend any time at all. It is far better to be confused or burnt out from the search, than to not be searching. Look what happened to Solomon when he went a different direction to figure it out?

  20. says

    Hi Jeremy,
    I think Frank Viola (in his book, Reimagining Church, 2008:43) summarized your topic well: “In so many ways, religious tradition has shaped our minds. It’s captured our hearts. It’s framed our vocabulary. So much so that whenever we open our Bibles, we automatically read our current church practices back into the text.”

    As I’m working on the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination (and also the doctrine of the Bride), I look forward to your posts on Calvinism.

      • GLADYS says

        Since becoming a Christian 17 years ago, my faith has been challenged and I have changed somewhat. Just like you Jeremy that you have found yourself re-thinking some of your beliefs.

        At least i know i’am not alone in my journey of faith. I will not get into it here, but I do find myself reading about Universal reconciliation lately. I know it is considered a heresy, but i don’t care. I do find that their is support in scripture for their position (of course as we know the new testament to me appears to be contradicting sometimes). Their are some passages that lend to Universal reconciliation being a possibility. In Many of Paul’s writings it can be interpreted that God will reconcile ALL meaning everyone to himself.

        I won’t ramble on about it because their is too much to say about it. I am considering it, but have not made that leap. I want to believe that ALL will come to faith in Christ and be reconcilled to God as opposed to say “Calvanism” that says most will be lost except the elect.

        I will say faith can be a journey, it is most definetly not static but living. My relationship with God is not static.

  21. Brian Midmore says

    The video teaches us that if we concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of everything else we will miss important things. Thus most of the time it is not that a theological idea is wrong but rather that it is given preemininence above all else. This might be the wrath of God in some circles that utterly squeezes out the love of God. It might be sola fide which then dominates all our thinking. Theological ideas can become idols which make us miss 2 important things:God and our neighbour.

    The dearest idol I have known ,
    Whate’er that idol be,
    Help me to tear it from thy throne
    And worship only thee.

    Tearing down cherished notions that good people have taught us is not easy and requires guts. But it must be done in faith and not presumption. Fear is the enemy of faith.

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