It can be a struggle to deal with theological interpretations simply because our individual worldview determines the lens through which we understand the words our ancient sisters and brothers penned, quilled, or carved in stone. Unfortunately, it is as common for that lens to be myopic as it is for it to be just a bit foggy, knowing that whatever we think is ‘right’ is affected by our life experiences. Who we are and where we come from determines how we understand and respond to that which we call The Divine.
You see, God is more than we can possibly comprehend and when we try to wrap God and God’s will in a neat package of rules-to-live-by we will miss the deeper concept of living a life of compassion for those around us.
Let me explain. The ancient texts for the world’s great religions are written by…well, people who were inspired by The Divine. Some conclude that this inspiration was given to selected individuals as a command to document exactly what was dictated to them by God. Others suppose that the sacred writings are recorded events to tell the story of those places where God and humanity rub against each other. The lens through which we read these stories will determine our perspective on who God is and who we are in God’s world.
Think of it like interpreting the following story.
One day a little girl asked her mother for a pink popsicle. The girl’s mother tried to find pink popsicles at the grocery store, but couldn’t. There were green popsicles, red popsicles, orange popsicles and even blue popsicles, but no pink popsicles. The mother decided to make pink popsicles. She bought sticks and popsicle molds to make the classic double popsicles like she found at the store, only this time they would be pink. She mixed water and flavorings with just the right amount of food color to make the most perfect pink popsicles. The next day the little girl asked for a popsicle and was delighted to have a pink popsicle. Now, the little girl wasn’t alone when she asked for the pink popsicle. Her friend looked longingly at the pink popsicle. At that point the girl quickly snapped the popsicle into it’s two parts and presented her friend with a pink popsicle. They sat side by side on the back steps, enjoying all that they had been given.
Now, some will read this simplistic story and determine that pink popsicles are the only color or flavor we should desire because that’s what was described in the story. Others may see the love of the mother for the child. Still others may see it as a story about sharing and gratitude for what they were given.
In reality, the details mean nothing without understanding the big picture. The pink popsicle could have been replaced with a cheeseburger, a bag of chips or a paisley umbrella. It simply doesn’t matter what the object was. The objective of the story is to experience the mother’s love and the child’s gratitude and sharing.
Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37. The final words are, “Now, go and do likewise.” We understand this to mean that when we see a need in another, we are to do what we can to help them through their time of struggle. The details set the stage for a story about the deeper meaning of respecting and loving others in a way that surpasses our cultural, and sometimes religious, norms. It’s about cleaning the lens through which we view the world long enough to see all that God created and know that it is good.
The thing is, we can get caught up in the details of this story as well. We can read it in a way that the Pharisee becomes an example of all that is wrong with Jewish leaders, as does the Levite for those who make the laws. We might see the Samaritan as a claim that those marginalized in the world are really better people than those in power. None of these are the intended message! They are details that can divert us from the depth and truth of this story if we let them. It’s kind of like making our focus pink popsicles instead of love, gratitude and sharing.
These are easy examples. The difficulty comes when we read passages that seem to speak to the issues that divide our communities today. It wasn’t long ago that slavery was supported, and condemned, by religious people – depending on how they read the Bible. Women have been excluded from ministry and leadership positions in many denominations based on Biblical interpretation. Hate has been spewed about issues of sexual preference and sexual identity…again based on the lens through which we read these beautiful, complex, ancient writings. We live in a world divided by religious perspective when indeed the ancients gave us stories about God’s love for all that God created and in knowing that, we should be inspired to live life embracing and sharing that same kind of love.
Instead, we point fingers and divide ourselves into groups that we feel are acceptable to God. Of course, the group we find ourself in is always the group that we think is somehow special to God. We, in our broken human form, continue to power-grab for God’s love as if it is limited and we need to claim it as our own for our little, exclusive group. No wonder God weeps.
It is time to sit on the back steps and share that pink popsicle with gratitude for all that has been given to us by God the Father, the Mother, the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer. And…we need to understand that, even though the story tells us about two little girls sharing and enjoying the day, it could have been two little boys, a boy and a girl, a girl and her mother, a boy and his father, a child and an elderly neighbor or any combination of humanity. The intended message is not in the details of who experienced the gift, it’s in the message of how the gift was freely given, received and shared.
And that, friends, is how we need to read scripture. It’s about meeting God, the author of love, the creator of all that we know. God, who was truly delighted by God’s own creation and claimed that all of it was good. God, who loves us more deeply that we can know and longs for us to walk with God. God who gives freely. God whom human words can never fully describe…
It’s always about the deeper message of who we are and Whose we are…and living as if it matters.