Yesterday, AGAIN, Don Merritt published a great post that God just grabbed in my heart and ran with. And *cough* AGAIN, I wrote this… erm… well… “comment”. Come to find out, that comment has set Don’s new “record for longest comment ever received”, and it has prompted some very gratifying discussion appended to his post. I decided the comment deserved its own post here, and I’d love to see the discussion continue.
His post is “What do you expect from the Bible?” and was prompted by the recent Creationism/Evolution debates on YouTube. Please look at his post, and then contribute to the dialogue, either here or there! Here are some “critical trigger words” that Don wrote:
Have you ever thought about that? Are you looking for a science textbook or a history textbook? The end of the world? Sex and violence? Facts, trivia and minutia? The way to follow Jesus? Maybe something else?
It could be argued that you can find all of these in the Bible to one degree or another, and people seem to find what they are looking for in most cases. [Don Merritt, Life Reference]
Here was my response:
What do we Expect?
How incredibly powerful this one little word is. Don’s post, the title itself… the Lord took this in an utterly “unexpected” direction for me as I pondered, and I thought you might enjoy the trip. The title, as read by most people, would seem like… “What do we expect from THE BIBLE”. But my reflections sounded more like… “What do WE EXPECT from the bible?” Entirely different syllabic emphasis.
Without getting lost in detail and footnotes, let me just air this thought for consideration. You, as all readers, are welcome either to ponder and affirm this as true in and for your spirit, or totally cast it aside if it does not ring true. But through years of ministry and counseling, I have discovered…
In any and every encounter or relationship, we, as humans, tend only to see, perceive, hear, and experience that which we EXPECT to experience. Events that ‘surprise’ us, tend to be perceived and reported subject to a great deal of factual error (such as accident or crime reports). Emotionally, we experience ‘negative’ emotions (anger, sadness, disappointment, fear) when we hold one set of expectations for an event, and the actual outcome is ‘less, or lower’ than anticipated. We tend to experience ‘positive’ emotions (joy, love, gratitude, awe) when our expectations are exceeded.
Here’s a piece of research that changed my life when I was in my graduate studies as a counselor. There is an 80% correlation between ‘pre-therapeutic expectation of outcome effectiveness’ for any given school or style of treatment, regardless of modality. That is, no matter which of the 15 or so types of dynamic therapies a client undergoes, 8 times out of 10, if they expect to complete treatment with a positive outcome and improvement, they do so; and 8 out of 10 times if they expect counseling to make no difference to their situation, it does not. Didn’t matter if that was Freudian Psychoanalysis, Behavior Modification, Adlerian, Gestalt, Transactional Analysis… didn’t matter. Intake expectation was far and away the strongest predictor of discharge outcome.
As a counselor, for decades, that truth struck deep in me. And I never EVER began actual “work” with any client, until I could determine whether they BELIEVED and EXPECTED that this work would help, and change their situation. Until I had that, my focus was to improve their expectations, rather than begin the work on the specific issue.
That just came leaping to mind today, after reading Don’s post. The old saw,
“For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none is sufficient.”
Don knows my view on “The Holy Bible” as a document, a book. For me, this fully sacred text is almost what we would think of as “magical”… a “dimensional portal”… where we, as finite, four-dimensional, little creatures as frail and faulty as we are… can encounter and engage FULLY… with the Presence and Person of Infinite Holy God — Omniscient Omnipresent Omnipotent Omnidimensional Omniconscious God — from our universe to His Omniverse. And THAT… I submit… is just plain flat AMAZING.
Why is this so? Because here is this “physical object”… two covers, white paper, black ink marks… this finite simple “book/thing”… that sets down symbolically the Word(s) of God (utterances of Jesus and God through historical revelations of the Holy Spirit)… ALONG WITH HIS PROMISE and ENDORSEMENT that when we “seek Him” here, He Himself will teach and reveal through the Living Word of His Holy Spirit.
So why is it then…
Why is it that some people can “read the Bible” and find nothing more than a series of dead historical reports… fodder for argument on philosophy, comparative theology, history, or literature? And others can enter into this Omnidimensional Portal and experience rhapsodies?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I believe Don hit the nail on the head. The difference is “What do we expect…”
I hope this offends no one, but the very power of God on earth, among men, can be “limited”… but only by a single thing, a single factor. The factor is: Faith. Look at the 6th chapter of Mark, the very beginning narratives and the ending narratives, and look at the progression through the chapter. Jesus is very very clear here, as is the inspired author of the chapter. Jesus’ “potency” is conditioned by the faith of the people surrounding Him, and grows from “He could only heal a few…” at the beginning, to mighty works at the end. Did Jesus change through the chapter? Of course not. But clearly the “dunamis” changed, and the chapter identifies only one factor to explain that:
The Power of Expectation…
9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” [Luke 11]
Here, it seems Jesus Himself teaches of “expectation”.
Anyway, I thank Don. I think “debates” such as have been discussed, are really an “Apple/Orange” situation. If one approaches the Bible expecting an “encounter with God”… to “seek, ask, knock, know”… God honors that, and the encounter happens. If one does not… well…
But it’s important to note, merely pinning the label “Christian” on one’s lapel before approaching the Bible doesn’t define one’s expectations of encounter. I know countless “Christians” who diligently sit before their Open Bibles, NOT seeking an encounter with Holy God on HIS terms… but rather seeking to “Master the Bible” on their own. They’ve been taught to see scripture verses as “darts”, “weapons”, to be collected and mastered (largely through memorization)… not that the verses CHANGE THEM… but that they learn to “handle and wield them with dexterity” in order to defeat and wound others they define to be “the enemy”… whether that is non-believers, or other Christians not of their culture and traditions.
Approaching the Bible as one would approach caged animals… complete with whip and chair, to “train them to do one’s bidding and obey”… well, the Holy Spirit really has to struggle to get heard in such encounters.
I have found in my own walk, that what I “bring away” from an encounter with God in the Bible depends a lot on how I approached the encounter in the first place. When I go to meet Him, to seek, knock, ask, know Him… on His terms… I come away changed. When I go out of “duty” or “habit”, or to “get some verses down because of an argument I’m in”… or in ANY way… to MASTER the BIBLE… well… at best, there’s “no magic there”, at worst the Father has to pull this Kingdom over for a “little chat in the woods” for a bit.
“What do we expect?”… What a marvelous question. It’s not just “The Book” that is holy… the physical object. It’s not the black marks on the white pages. But rather, it’s that when we sacredly reach THROUGH the black marks of the object, our minds and spirits can encounter the LIVING WORD(S)… the “Speaker” of the utterances, and the “Teacher” of the utterances, and Giver of understanding and wisdom…. ON HIS OWN TURF! But ONLY when we EXPECT to find Him there!
Isn’t that amazing? Wow! Grace to thee! — The Little Monk