Encouragement From The Word

Perspective and Original Intent

There is a meme that has been making its way around social media for the last few years that has always troubled me.  It depicts a number painted on the ground, appearing either as a six or a nine, depending on the perspective from which you come to it.  The caption reads, “Just because you are right does not mean I am wrong.  You just haven’t seen life from my side.”

In some ways, it may seem comforting to know that, yes, there are different sides to every story and every situation.

But what it fails to communicate is an important truth:  What was the original intent of the person who painted that number on the ground?  Was it intended to be a 6 or a 9?  Unless it was painted maliciously – to get people to fight about it – the only way one can know whether it is a 6 or a 9 is to know what the painter intended it to be.

There are, of course, small matters on which this meme depicts reality.  Let’s say, for example, that instead of a number it was a pitcher of milk that was sitting there.  One person may come at it with great joy, because she loves milk and has it on her cereal every morning.  Another person may approach it with great revulsion, because he hates milk, having been forced to drink it warm from the cow’s udder by his mother.

That, though, is a matter of taste, not objective truth.  Trouble is, some people apply the same principles to truth as they do to taste, and that’s where we get into difficulty.

We live in a strange time.  Western society used to treat objective truth as just that.  Then we moved into a phase where truth was believed to be relative (what’s true for you might not be true for me, etc.).  Now, in some ways, society has moved back to a place where truth is absolute, but only when it suits our own agendas.

For example, as a friend posted on social media yesterday, it’s astounding how some people will believe that the Bible can speak clearly and objectively about the importance of caring for refugees, but those same people may not believe the Bible speaks clearly and objectively about matters of sexuality – or vice-versa. 

We can’t pretend to control what the world thinks or believes, though we can seek to influence it.  As followers of Jesus, we need to be on the same page – literally and figuratively.  We need to be willing to submit to God’s Word as objective truth.  Yes, we read it with sensitivity to its cultural context, but we also must read it with full knowledge of our cultural context.  That is, at the same time as we take the culture of Bible times into account when we read it, we must also be fully aware of our own culture, being careful not to read our cultural norms into the Bible’s context.

This is why it is so important for us to read prayerfully, with an eye to how students of Scripture have read and interpreted it over the course of the two millennia of Christian history that preceded us.

In short, read Scripture the way it wants to be read, not the way you want it to read.  And yes, be sensitive to the perspectives others bring, but look primarily for the original intent as you read.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4.12, NLT).

Encouragement From The Word

Irregardless…

In case you weren’t sure the world is a different place these days, I learned this week that Merriam-Webster, an American dictionary, is now including the word “irregardless” as a legitimate word.  Even as I type this, my word processor has underlined that term in red as an error.

As one friend pointed out, lexicographers simply accommodate terms in regular use; they don’t see themselves as “Grammar Nazis”.  That’s a pity, because the word simply makes no sense as it tends to be used.  People will say, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h irregardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”  But the “ir-“ and the “-less” actually cancel each other out!  So what they’re literally saying is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regarding the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h,” which makes no sense whatsoever.  What they mean is, “I’m going to drive at 120 km/h regardless of the fact that the speed limit is 100 km/h.”

This is just one sign of the generally accepted principle that there are no objective standards anymore.

Here’s another:  on a flight last year with WestJet, I was saddened to see that a curtain had been added to the aircraft, separating the “plus” seats from the ordinary seats.  One of the policies that attracted me to WestJet when it first started was that everybody flew in the same class.  That started to slip some years ago when the first few rows were given special menus and drink preferences – for a price.  Then, it slipped further when the middle seat in the first few rows became an armrest and drink holder for the occupants in the aisle and window seats.  Now, at least on some flights, it has slipped even further to the point that a curtain is drawn, and the front washroom is reserved for those in the first few rows, making it little different from its main competitor.

I lamented this fact to a flight attendant, whose reply was, “The company is simply doing what the customers want.”

With businesses, I get that “the customer is always right.”  Yet WestJet seems to have fallen from its guiding principles, set out at its founding as a company, that everyone should be treated the same way.

These seem like fairly harmless phenomena, for most of us.  A lot of people can overlook the use of the term “irregardless”, and the majority of people don’t fly enough to care whether they have to traipse all the way to the back of the aircraft to use the washroom.  But when applied universally, these things are symptomatic of a more troubling trend, and we see it happening in the church.

Let’s just give people what they want.

If people want to use “irregardless”, regardless of the fact that it is not a sensible word, let’s legitimate it by putting it in the dictionary.

If people want to separate extra service and private washrooms from the masses in steerage, let’s make it happen.

If people want to do something the Bible says is wrong, let’s overlook it.

Not such a big leap, is it?

While there are some advantages to our emergence from Christendom, one of the things society has lost is the value of objective truth, and now, in some cases, it’s even being lost in the church.

If you’re in church leadership, don’t ignore the objective truth of God’s Word.

If you’re not in church leadership, hold your leaders to account, and pray for them to uphold the objective truth of God’s Word.

To keep the world from chaos, we need objective truth.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable” (Hebrews 4.12-13, NLT).