Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless differences in theology. The different vantage points of interpretation can be likened to that of a thousand birds swarming around our brittle little towers of opinion. In ceaseless cycles of flight, their constantly flapping wings stir up endless, mounting gray clouds that eclipse what might have only moments before been discernible truth. The clarity we had is suddenly gone. It was faith, now it is obscured by the veil draped by men. And there, with your face only inches from that veil your eyes go blurry and you feel defenseless against the separation that lies between you and understanding.
Like a starfish on a beach that has just been crashed upon by the wave, we are washed out into the depths of men’s perspectives on the Bible, and there many of us sit, burdened by the weight of the water above us… desperate to understand the sun that is glinting through the waters above. How deep is it? How far away is that sun? A thousand fish have told you different answers. It’s hard to stay alive in such conditions. From the seafloor we either drown in the waters or try to emerge from their depths gasping for the air of truth.
The birds are the words of men that crow and caw in mockery at the words of God being literal. The clouds are those men’s ideas that settle around us, and, while at first their appearance was so delicate and fluffy, we find that their bitter end is rain and cold. The theological waters have darn near become impassable because we don’t know the “original languages.” Ourselves, the tiny starfish, feel vulnerable to the weight of the waters, and sit on the seafloor trying to determine our next move. In fact, we are terrified to move. We just want to love the sun, who is Jesus, and we desire to feel His warmth… but the murky words of men keep us sunk, weighted down, holding our breath for the next wave of doctrine to roll over us. But, who will emerge and breathe in the clean air of the Gospel? Can you know the true Gospel as Paul did?
We are starving to understand what is true. Why does this great sea of theology seem so vast? Why does the Bible mean so many different things to so many different people? Why does each one of those people think their view is right? Like a ten-cheese soup in a caldron many just become a mixture of theologies, but do they ever arrive at the truth? What is truth? How do we find its anchor?
For many, the faith of their youth has become a wrinkled, pessimistic old man. Whether they weathered the sufferings of life poorly, or were stricken by too many “church people,” the end has become a fateful belief in nothing more than being good and the God of science. For others, they believe in the Bible and have kept the faith from their youth. Faith to them is a future hope of being delivered from the wrinkly nature of their deceptive hearts that are permeated with desire for sin. Their hope is fixed to a Man that will change their saggy bodies from mortal to immortal.
A few days ago I sat down with a Pastor much older than me who was also certainly more humble than me. Proficient in the Scriptures, there was nothing I brought up that he wasn’t already familiar with. This situation does not happen often because many people, yes even pastors, are oddly unfamiliar with their Bible. However, when this does happen the outcome is typically the same. The person I am speaking with will say, “Well, that’s just one way to interpret it, and I interpret that differently.” They will then expound upon the books that have told them differently and how they arrived at their conclusion. This makes me want to shout in their faces, “I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’VE READ!” (I told you he was more humble than me…)
Why do I want to shout this?
It’s actually not because of arrogance, it’s because of deep emotional pain I feel over how simple God has made the Gospel, and how the theologies of men have distorted its simplicity.
Paul believed that anyone who preached another Gospel other than the one he preached was to be accursed (Gal 1:8;9). He also believed that men would be judged based his gospel (Rom. 2:16). Paul clearly says that he was given the gospel from Jesus Himself in Galatians 1, and in Romans 16 he says that he has been given understanding of the mystery that was hidden from ages past. Paul says there is one faith in Ephesians 4:4, and in Jude we are exhorted firmly to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all handed down (v3). Paul believed that he understood what this good news was. He longed for us to grasp it as well:
“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” (Col. 1:9).
Paul, our father in the faith, prayed earnestly that we would understand.
When Jesus was resurrected from the dead He spent 40 days teaching His disciples the Gospel that He wanted them to teach and preach (Acts 1:3). It was a 40-day intensive seminar with the resurrected King of Glory concerning the things of the Kingdom of God. Oh how often we miss the security of such Scriptures! Jesus Himself instructed those men personally, and the instructions and words He told them, they repeat all through the book of Acts. Be filled with the words of those sermons friends! Eat every word and savor them! Peer deep into the Scriptures they speak of and behold the future events they describe. It is the Gospel in its purest form as told from the mouth of the person of the Godhead, recycled by the men He purposely entrusted.
Acts 3: 18“But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19“Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; 20and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, 21whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”
The point is that these men do not get it wrong! Paul’s confidence in stating that God will judge all men based upon the gospel he preaches is not arrogant––it is confidence by the Holy Spirit and Holy Scriptures, a holy boldness that he has been given perfect understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that will save men’s souls if they respond, or send them to a lake of fire if they do not. I long to have this same confidence. But, I have not ascended to the third heaven and heard the Gospel directly from Jesus’ mouth as Paul did. You probably haven’t either. So, for those of us who haven’t had that experience we have a very simple responsibility––do the things the apostles did, say the things the apostles said, and believe the things the apostles believed. However, the common problem is that there are so many people doing things the apostles did not do, saying things the apostles did not say, and believing things the apostles did not believe, all the while teaching and believing they are!
Now, here is where people’s minds go, “Well, who made you the judge afacelesswitness?!” And again they may stem the confrontational nature of truth and move on instead of respond.
I recently had a dream that my family and I were inside of a house during a tornado. The gripping fear that wrapped around the muscles in my body as though I were in the fist of a giant was some of the most tangible fear I have ever experienced in a dream. I grabbed my family’s hands knowing that I could not protect them and we stood in a circle. Our house began lifting off the ground and spinning. Then, from the depths of my being I began screaming the only thing that made sense, “WE HAVE TO CALL ON THE NAME OF JESUS!” I repeated this anthem from the top of my lungs until the storm moved over, setting our house down gently.
I share this because it is my theological position. I am screaming out loud and calling on the name of Jesus to see through the haze of men. I am plunging the depths of His Scriptures to find understanding and praying every time that the Holy Spirit would open my eyes to see truth clearly. I am asking the question of what is biblically consistent––giving Jesus the most glory? Through many hours of weeping over the texts and humbling myself before them, I have tarried, that they might affect me deeply and cause me to die to myself and live for Christ alone. I am swimming down beneath the ship of the apostles and trying to examine every detail of what anchors it, so that I might be found a faithful witness. Tuning my ear to Jesus’ words I am searching out the things He must’ve said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
We, like Pilate, must turn to the Lord and say “What is truth?” hopefully to receive the long quiet stare of Christ’s fiery eyes… signifying that the answer is within Him alone. We are sanctified by His true words as He prays to the Father in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Receiving His words as truth is what sanctifies the people of God. Not allegorizing His words, nor symbolizing His words, nor transforming His words into the words of men.
A literal interpretation of the Bible is the anchor of the apostles and the key to understanding their doctrine and interpretation of the Scriptures. Men bring the haze, not God. We must peer through their theological fog and rejoice at the light of truth!
The argument over literal versus allegorical interpretation is fallacy! God’s word is truth. It is not ‘symbolic truth.’ Either He will do what He said literally or you don’t know what God will do––including save you from your sins! Because, how do you know if that also is allegorical or not!? How can you ever arrive at a conclusion or have a balanced filter of what is literal or allegorical? You cannot. It all becomes subjective reasoning. It’s as simple as that.
For many of us the journey has been long and contrary on the sea of truth and we have finally let down our anchors where the lighthouse of the Gospel came into sight. Our ships tattered and beaten––the once crisp sails now wind-blown like shredded ribbons licking the wind from the end of an old flag––we behold the glory of truth and finally rest in the peace of the Bible being literal from start to finish. Keep sailing your ships onward friends until you also find that peace amidst the torrential waters of modern theology! Do not ride their modern tides! Do not be swayed by new winds of doctrines, or “new perspectives”. No matter how fierce the storm, or how conflicting the waves, sail the waters with confidence and boldness that you may indeed arrive at the shore of eternal life to hear Jesus announce “You believed Me!” We joyously collapse into His arms on that day and breathe in resurrection. Even so, Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!