Most of us have likely heard the expression, “Looking at everything through ‘rose colored glasses.” It suggests seeing things with an exaggerated sense of a positive attitude that may ignore the ultimate reality of a situation. All of us see our world through a set of lens that have been shaped by our culture, our family, our history, our environment, our religion, and a host of other variables.
No one can doubt that a Judeo-Christian world view is very different from the world view through which someone who grew up in an eastern culture with Hinduism, or Buddhism, or some other religious perspective. Someone that grew up in the heart of Africa cooking over a Charcoal fire is going to see things differently from someone fed from processed foods heated in a microwave.
Western culture has a world view that is built around principles of guilt and innocence. Some more primitive cultures hold to a world view shaped by a sense of fear and power. Others see the world from a culture of shame and honor. The lens through which we view our world is very different.
The reality of seeing things differently doesn’t catch you by surprise as you read this blog. What might surprise you is to stop and consider how your world view and your interpretation of a passage of scripture are intertwined. Often when we have told a story from the Bible in Western Africa, for example, the villagers who live with an almost first century lifestyle, no electricity, drawing water from a well, and similar realities can grasp things in the stories that I have missed all my life.
A good friend of mine from Nigeria and I were discussing church discipline one day. Because of his cultural heritage and my age being much greater than his, he typically shows me tremendous respect. On this particular occasion he blurted out, “Brad, you don’t understand that passage of scripture.” So I smiled at him and asked him to enlighten me. Well, you may recall, Paul suggests that if a person is not willing to repent before the church, you withdraw fellowship and do not even eat with them. My friend said, “Pastor, you are an American. You guys don’t really eat together anyway. You come home, park in your garage, and rarely see your neighbors. In Africa everything is community focused. Even if a stranger approaches while you are eating, they invite you to dip your hand into their food bowl and share. If you tell a man he cannot eat with you, that is a really big deal.”
I say all of this simply to challenge you to study context and learn to ask significant questions. How does the story of David and Bathsheba change in your understanding if you see it in terms of honor and shame as opposed to guilt and innocence? We tend to pontificate sometimes on a topic that we think we are absolutely certain about and maybe we would see it differently through a different set of lens. I am not suggesting at all that there are no absolutes in the Bible. I am simply saying we sometimes actually miss the point.
For example, consider the story we call the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. The story does not focus on the son that wandered off in sin. The story doesn’t even focus primarily on the father’s love for that son, even though it is evident. The opening of Luke 15 notes the grumbling of the Pharisees, and the scripture says that Jesus told this parable to them; that is, the Pharisees. We tend to divide the parable into three parables, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. But what happens to that parable when we recognize that Luke called it one parable.
Jesus says to THEM, the Pharisees, when a man recovers a lost sheep you celebrate. When a woman recovers a lost coin you celebrate. Yet when a lost son returns home the elder brother, who represents the Pharisees, does not celebrate. So are sheep and coins more important than people. I am challenging you to study with a recognition that we all bring bias and prejudice to the text. We see it through the lens of our point of view. Think about it, that is all I am suggesting.