By Steven Norris

     Last week, I suggested that our readings of scripture might reveal more about the preconceived ideas that we bring to the text than they do about the original intent of its authors. That suggestion elicited some interesting responses and questions from those who read it. For example: “How are we supposed to read a text if not through the lens of our own thoughts and experiences? What happens when other readers come up with very different, contradictory interpretations? How do we find the truth?”

     After years of wrestling with these same questions, I have concluded that any discussion about God must begin by acknowledging that our understanding is limited. Famously, one of Job’s friends asks him, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?” (Job 11:7-8). Just this past week, our church looked at the well-known verse from Isaiah that says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (55:8).

     We must begin by admitting that there are things about God that we will never fully comprehend. After more than thirty years of studying the Bible, there are still parts of the Hebrew Scriptures that shock me and leave me utterly bewildered. “How could that be in there?” I’ve often wondered. The Apostle Paul was correct, “we see but through a glass dimly.” This is why Jesus is so central to the Christian faith.

     “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” Paul’s letter to the Colossians tells us. The Gospel of John similarly says, “the eternal Word took on flesh and made his home among us” (my translation).

     In the absence of a clear picture of God and God’s ways, I choose to look at the clearest picture available to me: Jesus. I see the way he taught, the way he paid attention to the outcast and overlooked, the way he turned religious questions and expectations on their head, and the way he served with compassion. I see that he chose not to fight with the weapons of the world, but exposed our futile quest for power and possessions by his radical non-violence. This becomes my interpretive lens.

     Scholars of religion call it a “Christocentric hermeneutic.” My Mamaw would have put it differently: “Everything points to Jesus, and through Jesus, we see everything else more clearly.” Instead of getting too hung up on those troubling passages of the Israelite conquest or the impenetrable portions of Ezekiel’s visions, I look to Jesus. Instead of making speculations about the wild images of John’s Revelation, I choose to remember that it ultimately points to Jesus – the light in the darkness.

     Simply pointing to Jesus does not untangle all of the mysteries of the text. It does, however, provide an effective tool to move us closer to the heart of God, reduce the chance of outlandish interpretations, and becomes a lens through which everything else makes more sense.