I grew up with sensitive eyes. Bright lights used to be so painful to me at times. For example, during a car ride I’d have to hold my eyes shut as hard as I could while they watered uncontrollably until I was back indoors.
As you can imagine, the optometrist was one of my least favorite places to go. The puffs of air in the eyes, the bright lights, and the reminder that my eyesight was terrible made for some miserable childhood experiences.
With all the lights and poking and prodding at my eyes, the only part of the exam that gave me any respite was when they would determine my prescription. They’d ask me to read as far as I could on the eye chart with my natural vision, and I’m sad to say that in those days, I struggled to make it past the big “E” at the top! Then the optometrist went through the process of flipping lenses in and out, shutting one eye, then the other, and then finally – the big reveal – he’d tell me to open both eyes and read the lowest, smallest line that I could. Suddenly the letters of the chart took new form, appearing crisp, clear, and legible.
God’s Word is a lot like that eye chart. Some things are clear and easy to understand, but when we get to some passages, it really starts to get blurry. That’s the thing about the eye chart, though – there are no blurry smudges on it – just letters. It’s poor eyesight that makes reading it difficult. In the same way, our sin nature makes reading the Bible a struggle.
Perspicuity is a term that is used to describe the clarity of Scripture. Can you understand the Scripture by reading it plainly? Many attack this presupposition. Folks will tell you that the Bible is corrupted, that it should be read in light of newer inspired texts, or that mystical experiences are needed to properly interpret passages that may take on new meanings via different experiences.
There does seem to be a problem. As a child, I often wondered how there are so many different types of Christians who all read the same Bible. How is it that some people say that the Bible is communicating something other than what it appears to say? How do some title themselves “Christians” while holding completely different beliefs regarding the Bible’s teaching on wealth, health, and happiness – or gender and sexuality for that matter?
What does God’s Word say about itself on these issues?
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:5-7
So God’s Word is supposed to be taught to children. Psalms 119:130 says that God’s Word “imparts understanding to the simple.” These verses imply that you do not need to be a Bible scholar to benefit from it.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
God’s Word tells us that we have all we need through God’s Word, but it also mentions that it is profitable for teaching. Teaching is mentioned throughout the Bible as a necessary part of church life, discipleship, and childrearing. This is an important aspect of the clarity or perspicuity of the Scriptures – we need to be taught that there are right and wrong ways to handle Scripture. We don’t get to simply pick up the Bible and declare that it means whatever we want. Second Timothy 2:15 shows that God’s Word needs to be handled rightly: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
However, I’m not saying the entire Bible is equally easy to understand.
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16
Even Peter admits that it can be difficult to understand some of Paul’s writings. Let’s be clear here that they are not without meaning – they just require more effort to understand. But we also see another problem revealed here. People distort Scripture to meet their own purposes.
God’s Word is divisive. Recently on the blog, we talked about the preference of some to live in a lie rather than to accept the ramifications of the truth. When it comes to the clarity of Scripture, a lot of misunderstanding comes from our sinful desire to validate preexisting emotions. From Adam and Eve we learn that humanity can be tempted to question God’s edicts.
For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3
Whatever you want to believe, there’s a church that preaches it somewhere in our wicked world of post-truth and subjectivity. Syncretism is the blending of belief systems, and it is the world’s largest religion. Within all major religions, you have blending of beliefs with folk religion. In the U.S. we unfortunately have Christians who have incorporated their worship of idols into their understanding of Christianity – idols of prosperity, safety, convenience, happiness, pragmatism, self-entitlement, and even family can take precedence over God’s Word for many who dutifully attend church.
Not every part of the Bible is equally clear, and there are things of which the Bible doesn’t speak directly or give a full explanation. However, we do have clear understanding of what we need to know for salvation, for life, and for obedience to God.
What of the Holy Spirit? How does that work in our understanding of Scripture? These are great questions that have been addressed in this article: http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-the-spirit-helps-us-understand. This article walks through how the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts with the heart of the Scripture. The Spirit isn’t delivering secret messages – it’s allowing us to believe, allowing our hearts to be changed by the Bible’s messages.
How then do we read the Bible? Carefully and with lots of prayer. We pray that God would humble our hearts to receive His Word. We pray that we wouldn’t have blurry vision from sin, idols, pride, or peer pressure. We put God’s Word where it rightfully belongs: on a pedestal all alone with no equal. With great importance placed on it, let us open its pages with reverence and dedication to handle its words with care. It’s my prayer that you will open your Bibles this week with renewed thirst for God’s wisdom. Take hope and joy in the truth that one day soon our vision will be restored, and we will see the God of the Bible face to face with crystal clarity.
-Nathan, Pastoral Intern