All reading is interpretation.
Words are symbols. They point to meanings they only imperfectly capture. The more profound the meanings, the more tenuous their connection to the words that seek to signify them.
There is no such thing as a perfectly objective reading. We all bring to language our past experiences, the beliefs we hold, the ideas we cherish, our prejudices, and preconceptions. We all have a point of view which is a view from a point. “A point” is a position shaped by the factors that contribute to making us the person we have become. The point from which we start always shapes our use of words.
This is equally true, and vitally important, when reading the Bible. Like all ancient spiritual writing, the Bible is a difficult, dense, and complex text.
Every interpretation of the Bible comes from a particular perspective. We all read the Bible through a lens that shapes how we understand each passage. We need to be as honest and consistent as we can about our point of view. We need to try to avoid reading one part of the Bible in a way that clearly contradicts our interpretation of any other passage.
Below I have selected some of the texts that guide my understanding of Scripture. I seek to see all parts of the Bible in tune with these verses.
These verses tell a story that for me resonates with the whole of Scripture. They are the paradigm through which I seek to understand all part of the Bible. They tell a particular story. The story of these verses begins with the conviction that the fundamental structure of the universe is love. Love is the goal of all life and the means of fulfilling that goal. Love is the DNA of the human creation.
In Christian tradition we call this love “God.” We say that we see this love fully embodied in Jesus. We hear this love in his teachings. We seek to live in the Spirit of this love that is the gift Jesus sent from the Source that is Love.
The love that lived in the human person of Jesus and lives in us by his Spirit is gracious and merciful. This love always seeks to forgive and begin again. It is fundamentally oriented towards reconciliation, seeking to embody the oneness of the human community and of all of creation. It is kind, compassionate, reliable, gentle, and generous. This energy field of love never ends. It cannot be defeated. It triumphs over all pain, brokenness and tragedy.
We are born into this field of love. It is the power that brought all of creation into existence. Because of this love, every part of creation is absolutely good and reveals the nature of God. When we open our hearts, we perceive the presence of this love hidden even in the difficult realities of life. Every detail of life is a gift of love coming to us as an opportunity to rest more deeply in the reality of our true nature which is love.
Tragically and inexplicably, we humans wander away from this love. (nb: Both Genesis 3 and Luke 15:11-32 describe but in no way attempt to explain this reality of human experience.) We yearn for home unaware that home lies within in the gentle embrace of Love. We wander after endless illusions seeking satisfaction in the fantasies of this world. As we wander from the deep reality that flows at the heart of our being, we lose our way and forget our true identity.
But, God does not forget. God has orchestrated life in such a way that in every circumstance a gentle voice sounds gently calling us back. Our lives echo with this call. Every pain, every broken relationship, betrayal, loss, sadness, or despair, rings with the sound of Love’s call.
Nothing we have ever done or that has ever been done to us can separate us from this love. If we are alive, the Spirit of love dwells within us. Love causes our hearts to beat, our lungs to pump air, and the blood to flow in our veins. To fall prey to the illusion of separation is to live in death.
Jesus came to draw us back to an awareness of the fullness of life that is our destiny. Jesus lived the reality that there is no force on earth that can defeat this life. Jesus embodied the triumph of love and life over hatred and death.
When we live in tune with our true nature, love naturally flows in us. I are empowered to be instruments of reconciliation and healing. As we surrender to love, we become that love to which we give ourselves and flow in the eternal stream of goodness and light that is God.
If my interpretation of any passage of Scripture runs counter to this basic story, I will return to the verses that do not seems to fit and work at them until I find a way I might understand the passage that is in alignment with these fundamental truth I believe about the nature of God and of human existence.
Here are some of the biblical verses that reinforce the story I hold in my heart when I seek to interpret any passage of Scripture:
This is the greatest and first commandment….. ‘You shall love…’ (Matthew 22:38, 39)
Jesus: God so loved the world… (John 3:16)
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (I John 4:8)
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. (I Corinthians 13:4-6)
Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:10 NIV)
the fruit of the Spirit (ie. what Spirit/God looks like) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22,23)
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me. (Psalm 116:5,6)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22,23)
you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Nehemiah 9:17)
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits—
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good as long as you live. (Psalm 103:1-5)
I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them…
I will rejoice in doing good to them, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness,
with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:40,41)
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. (Isaiah 40:11)
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. (Romans 1:19,20)
it was you (God) who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. (Psalm 139:13,14)
God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’… So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them… (Genesis 1:26, 27)
then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
He (the Messiah) will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break. (Isaiah 42:2, 3)
Jesus: ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ (Matthew 11:28-30)
Jesus: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)
Honour everyone. (I Peter 2:17)
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39)
Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. (Isaiah 49:15,16)
Jesus: remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:20)
Jesus: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater… (Mark 12:31)
Jesus: You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? (Matthew 5:43-47)
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)