This past weekend we celebrated our country. I’m thankful that I grew up in the United States. But I don’t believe we are a chosen nation nor do I believe that God has singled us out to bless us, all the while ignoring other nations. Much more than being part of this “nation under God”, I am an individual in Christ Jesus, the Lord of all nations.
Sunday in our Life Group we were discussing what the Bible teaches about The Day of the Lord … and what surrounds that Day. Although we didn’t have time for each one of us to share our personal views on “end times”, I have a feeling we would have had varied beliefs even within our small group gathered around the table. The Bible is clear that God doesn’t want us to worry, argue or be ignorant about the time or the events surrounding life after death or His return. (Matt 24, Titus 3, 1 Thessalonians 4, 2 Thessalonians 2) But in my experience, growing up in a Western Baptist culture, we often read prophecy with American eyes … as if it was written exclusively to this country instead of (first) to Eastern peoples and ultimately to all believers everywhere. We too often interpret the events and the characters described in the passages about the last days in light of our own culture and leaders. It limits us from reading and interpreting the Bible as we should.
I’m so enjoying my personal Summer Book Club. 🙂 This week’s reading was quite helpful in my recent study of eschatology (since our Life Group is in 1 & 2 Thessalonians). I pray that I will more and more read and study with Christian eyes to understand with a Christian heart. It’s so easy to have my American blinders on and miss what the Bible really means in what it says.
When we cross a culture, as when we read the Bible, we often assume that what goes without being said in our culture and language also goes without being said in other cultures and languages. This can lead to profound misunderstanding. Matters become even more complex when you consider that grammar and syntax, as well as ethnicity and social class, not only reflect but also determine the way people in a given culture think and speak.
Linguists generally conclude that our heart language-the language we learn first (up to about age seven)-sets most of the parameters of our worldview. We have an ‘American’ worldview because our parents imparted it to us, both through ideas they taught us and through our shared language … Many of the most important aspects of language are not words.
This is not merely a matter of vocabulary but of values. The words we use are a good indication of what we consider important. As our values change, so does our language. [In the West] when we really need a word, we invent one. For example, often we need lots of English words to circle around a concept for which we don’t have a word. Paul struggled for a Greek word to describe the fruit (singular) of the Spirit. He describes it as a “love joy-peace-patience-kindness-goodness-faithfulness-gentleness-self-control kind of fruit” (Gal 5:22). Paul is not giving us a list of various fruits, from which we may pick a few. Rather, he gives us a list of words that circle around the one character of a Spirit-filled life he is trying to describe.
People who speak only one language, which is most Americans, often assume that there is a one-to-one relationship between languages. This derives from how we understand reality. We assume that everyone interprets reality like we do. So when we run across a concept in a foreign language that describes an experience that’s familiar to us, we assume they mean what we mean. Well, they don’t. Sometimes there is no equivalent.
The book of Revelation is apocalyptic, as are parts of Daniel. Such books reveal or unveil the mysteries of God about the future and make heavy use of symbolism, often involving numbers and animals. The present time is described as dire, and just when it appears things cannot get worse, God intervenes and rescues His people for a glorious future. While we may understand the big picture, the details are very confusing for those unfamiliar with this genre (horsemen, large-winged creatures, bowls, seals). This genre is foreign to us.
While we may be ready to say we don’t understand all there is to know about prophecy because the language is metaphorical, it’s important to also realize that many Western scholars misinterpret the Bible because of the very same misunderstanding. This is important because we need humble courage to recognize and reject the teaching of those who are actually undermining clear biblical truths.
Real misunderstanding is at stake. Classical liberal theologians of the nineteenth century argued that Jesus never claimed to be divine. They missed the crucial point that Jesus made important truth claims-including being God incarnate-through His use of metaphorical language.
Serious misunderstanding can occur when we fail to recognize all that goes without being said about language and how we use it. There is no real substitute for becoming familiar with the Bible’s original languages. But that doesn’t mean you can’t become sensitive to the difference language makes in the meantime.
We are blessed in our country to have access to so many different translations of the Bible. Some countries don’t even have one!! We should take advantage of this privilege as Christian Americans. I have a Bible that compares three translations side by side. This is a great help when studying.
“Translators have different goals. Some English translations follow the grammar, syntax and voice of the original languages as faithfully as they can while still rendering readings that make sense in English. Other translations are more concerned that the text be readable, comfortable, idiomatic English. In other words (and to overstate the point a bit): some translations emphasize getting the original languages right, while others emphasize getting the contemporary languages right. For this reason, you can get a good sense for the differences between languages by reading a biblical passage in various English translations.
Reading the Bible with our hearts without our English bias is impossible. Words mean something to us. But as we approach the Bible with an open heart, we desire to not just know what it says or why God leaves things unsaid, but most importantly we are to ask God to reveal to us what we are to learn from what’s there and to transform us into the likeness of His Son through His active Word. We aren’t going to have all the answers about the Lord’s return or the days surrounding it. But we do have the Prince of Peace residing with and in us to help us face whatever happens.
Westerners are wired, by virtue of our worldview, to seek cause-and-effect connections in everything. We instinctively ask, “Why did this happen?” When we read the story of Job, for example, we tend to emphasize why these things happened to Job. We may be emphasizing the wrong point. Job never does know why those things happened.
Since we are rarely told by God why things happen, maybe we are asking the wrong questions.
When it comes to the Day – that glorious Day – we are told this clearly: we are to keep meeting with each other and encouraging each other in the Word (Hebrews 10). And until that Day, listening to missionaries and learning from people who are from other countries is a great way to be encouraged and enlightened in God’s Word! I believe that God loves America. But I don’t believe He loves only America. In fact, He told us that He loves the whole world and gave His Son for us all. And on that Day, people from every nation and tribe will gather to lift their voices together in praise to the One who came to seek us and save us from ourselves!