Look at the picture above. What do you see? Some of you will automatically see a beautiful young woman from a different era. Others will see a decrepit old lady. If you look long enough, you will soon see both. This is a powerful illustration of how different people will see the same picture and see different things. Though you see something different from the next person, you’re both right. People can reach different conclusions and no one is wrong. We’re just seeing the same thing from different perspectives. Similarly, people will read the same Bible passage and reach different conclusions. Yet, no one is wrong. Two readers can reach two different conclusions and they can both be right. Just like with the illustration above, parts of the Bible lend themselves to more than one correct conclusion. As we come to see that, we come to embrace one another and live in unity together, not merely tolerating one another, but actually affirming one another.
Really? If you think that Bredenhof has finally come to his senses, you need to read further. If you think that I’m buying into that manner of thinking, I can assure you I’m not.
To begin with, we need to recognize something about that illustration above. It was designed so that people would reach two different conclusions. Whoever created it did so with the intention of portraying both a young woman and an old lady. This illusion was no accident. Because of the intention of the creator, the person who says that it only portrays a young woman is just as wrong as the person who says that it only portrays an old lady. The person who says that it portrays a young woman is just as correct as the person who says that it portrays an old lady, but neither is as correct as the person who says that it portrays both. The intention was to get people to see both.
But what if the person who created a portrait only intended it to be understood one way? What if his intention was to portray one thing and one thing only? Now, what if a vast majority of people had an eye-defect which prevented them from seeing only the one thing that the creator intended to portray? This eye-defect is what creates illusions. But then, further, what if the artist had a pair of corrective lenses that he could give to viewers of his portrait, so that, with these lenses, they see only what he wants them to see? With these corrective lenses, viewers would comprehend the sole correct meaning of the portrait. That changes the situation quite drastically, doesn’t it?
Let’s go to the Bible for an illustration. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, the apostle Paul writes that the Thessalonian Christians are waiting for the return of Jesus from heaven. He adds that this Jesus is the one whom God raised from the dead: “…whom he raised from the dead…” Now someone might approach that passage and say, “It’s like the illustration of the old lady and the young woman…” To which we must immediately reply, “Oh, you mean the illusion of the old lady and the young woman?” Someone might say, “You could take this literally and say that Paul believes that the heart of Jesus started pumping blood again on Easter Sunday, but you could equally say that Paul is teaching that Jesus came to life again in the hearts of his disciples. Both could be correct.” Really? What this fails to see is that we are not dealing merely with the words of man, but the infallible Word of God. The nature of God must factor into this. The God of truth does not lie or create illusions. The problem is with man. The problem is that we have not only an “eye-defect,” but also a heart-defect. Since we are inclined to hate God, we are inclined also to misread his Word and see what we want to see.
God corrects our heart-defect with his Spirit. His Holy Spirit, who inspired the Word in the first place, gives us the desire to understand God’s Word as he intends it to be understood. God has promised that the Spirit of Truth will lead us to his truth (John 16:13). Therefore, the Christian says, “Father, help me with your Spirit to understand what you mean in your Word. Help me not to see illusions, but the true reality.” This is a prayer that pleases God and will be heard by him.
God answers our prayer and helps us to see the true reality with his “corrective lenses.” His Spirit leads his children to put on these corrective lenses so that our “eye-defect” can be addressed. What are these corrective lenses? It’s the rest of his Word. If we’re looking at 1 Thessalonians 1:10, a faithful Christian is going to go elsewhere in Scripture to help us understand this teaching in the correct way. For example, we go to 1 Corinthians 15. In that passage, the Holy Spirit is adamant that Jesus rose from the dead and this was not felt in the hearts of his followers, but seen with their eyes (1 Cor. 15:3-8). In John’s gospel, the disciples touch Jesus and he eats with them — this did not happen in their hearts. There is only one correct understanding of 1 Thessalonians 1:10 — Jesus physically rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. This was history. This is no illusion. It really happened as plainly described by God in his Word.
There are still difficult passages in Scripture where we struggle to reach the correct conclusion. As a preacher, I have occasionally encountered passages where I have to honestly say, “I’m not sure.” There are some passages where faithful Christians do reach different conclusions, even with the Spirit filling them and leading them to put on the corrective lenses. But that still does not mean that all the different conclusions are equally legitimate. Some are wrong and some are right or some are more wrong and some are more right. Even if we can’t perceive it, this is the way things are. The God of truth is still speaking in this Word and his intention is not to offer illusions to confuse us, but absolute truth to encourage us (John 17:17).
The most important thing to realize is that the Bible is ultimately not a human book. In the final analysis, this is God’s book. Yes, there are 66 books where various human authors were involved, but behind them all was one Author. In every chapter, every verse, even every word, this one Author has his intentions. The unregenerate will not discern those intentions, certainly not with any consistency. Christians can and will. Our calling as Christians is to prayerfully follow the Spirit by putting on the corrective lenses of the Word, comparing Scripture with Scripture, and thereby striving to faithfully discern what our Father intends to say. The inerrant Word must always be our guide, also when it comes to understanding the Word.
“For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Psalm 36:9