I think it is important to recognize that as human-beings, we universally use symbols as the most important mechanism of understanding. When many of us think about symbols, we think about it in modern-day terms such as logos i.e. the ‘symbol’ for Taco Bell, or the ‘symbol’ for the Olympic Games. It’s important to keep in mind that the whole of language is communicated through the use of symbols. To grasp this, (I like to keep it simple) I think of the word ‘car.’ The word ‘car’ isn’t a car, either written or spoken… it is only the representation of a car so that our minds can imagine a car and understand what others are trying to communicate. We then string other descriptive symbols for the physical world, such as ‘blue,’ the year, make and model are all symbols, ‘clean’, etc. to get a clearer mental image. So, when we read anything, or hear anyone speak, our minds register hundreds, and thousands of symbols and interpret their meaning in milliseconds, often without slowing down to take the time to even ponder an alternative, much less a Biblical, point of view. Many of us Christians are accustomed to reading the Word of God in a certain way, through a certain point-of-view, and is one reason why many scriptures and verses are so hard to understand—I am infinitely guilty of this myself. We often glaze over much of the symbols, not taking the time—even in this age of information—to really study the Bible, and do so with our point-of-views examined. When I say point-of-view, I mean our slightly conformed-to-the-world’s perspective, or “worldview;” a slightly humanistic, liberal understanding of justice and love. These are huge concepts that need to be aligned with God before we even begin to read from the Bible—making sure that our understanding, or our minds, are constantly renewed—as it says in Romans, chapter 12:2:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
This is not always an easy thing to do—for me, it never is—and the only way I can make sure my mind is able to fully grasp the holy words on the pages of the Bible (or at least what the Holy Spirit wants me to understand in that moment) is if I pray, ask Him to—once again—forgive me of my sinful words, actions, and thoughts with all earnesty and accept His forgiveness all over again. This always feels a little like it did the first time I cried out to our living God, YHWH, and accepted Jesus as my personal savior from my sins, and death itself. Then, I can dive into the Word, not with only a renewed “frame of mind,” but a spiritual cleansing—this makes it possible to “hide the Word in my heart” like David in Psalm 119:10-11:
“With my whole heart I have sought you; oh let me not wander from your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
We know that it says in Romans 3:24-25:
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
So we know that no matter what, we WILL sin!! With unrepented-for sins corrupting our spirits, there’s a poor chance we will be able to receive a godly understanding of what God is saying to us in the Bible… we will only barely understand a piece of it, and too often fall into a routine of going through scriptures, getting the gist of it, justifying through shallow reasoning, the many instances of violence, judgments, plagues, and miracles etc. found throughout the Bible. We love the parts of the Bible that affirm God’s love in obvious ways, in feel-good ways…often forgetting that discipline–a general “refining by fire,”–is also a showing of great love…just like a parent disciplining their young child for dangerous behavior. And as we were once little children, we remember at least a time or two when we made a mistake, recognized it right away, and went to tell our mom or dad BEFORE punishment came—those times usually ended happier than those other times when we tried to ignore, or hide our mistakes, and we were punished later. Staying open and accountable to our heavenly Father will allow us to understand His instruction, and really, is the only way to live.