Biblical Depth and Beauty
I have been a Bible student for the greater part of my life. I have been preaching the gospel for nearly 30 years now. I have been teaching courses at a collegiate level for over a dozen of those years. I don't say any of this to brag, as none of that proves a thing. I say it to make a confession. There are days when, during my Bible study, I think to myself, "Where have I been? Why didn't I see that before? How could I have been so blind here?" In other words, I feel like I'm just now finally waking up sometimes to the depth and beauty of Scripture. The truth is, I've been feeling this way for … well a long time. The more I study, the more I feel it.
There is a depth and beauty to Scripture that can easily be missed, depending on how we are reading it and what our goals are when we read. I'll be reading along and a line from a well-known movie hits me:
"You're not thinking fourth-dimensionally!" Yeah, I have a real problem with that.
We might have a tendency to read the Bible in some strict linear fashion. We read from Genesis to Revelation and tell the story, and this is necessary. Yet how often do we read while failing to make connections between passages and concepts? We may see a flat-line story without seeing the layers of connections of ideas that are interwoven throughout. The Bible is not just a linear story. It is an interwoven tapestry filled with layers and webs of beautiful patterns. If a written text can be said to be 3-D, Scripture is that! We need to put our glasses on so we can see its depth leaping off the pages. It's there if we'll see it.
Scripture is filled with relationships of concepts. Types and antitypes, shadows and substance, are staples of understanding the importance of connections. For example, "For Christ our passover has been sacrificed" (1 Cor 5:7) is a beautiful statement of pattern and connection. The book of Hebrews is filled with it and cannot be understood without seeing this. The book of Revelation's connections back to the Old Testament are grand and exploding with meaning. The way that the New Testament quotes the Old Testament adds a depth that we might easily miss (e.g., "Out of Egypt I have called My Son," Matt 2:15); it is certainly a challenging study. Over and over, we find fulfillment of both prophecy and concept. The biblical story is told many ways and through many images, from the Garden, to the Exodus, the Temple, the holy city of Jerusalem and more, finding masterful fulfillment in Christ. There is a great joy of discovery when we see these connections and begin understanding the depth at which these connections are made. This is one reason why Bible study should never become cold, lifeless, or boring. If we are bored with Bible study, we haven't turned our minds on yet.
I believe that the beauty and depth of Scripture is part of God's inspiration. Failing to see some of this depth is part of the reason, I am convinced, that people end up rejecting Scripture. People might take passages, read them flatly, and conclude some kind of contradiction or problem, when, in reality, they are missing the depth of what the passages are teaching because they draw hasty conclusions without putting much thought into it.
For example, many times I see a critic of Scripture, in somewhat of a mocking tone, try to discount the Bible by making some flippant remark how ridiculous it is to follow the Bible when it contains commands about not mixing fabrics together. If they know where the reference is, they seldom know anything about the context of the passage, the covenants, or the greater issues involved. They see a flat-line order that sounds silly on the surface, and they run with that impression.
"You are to keep My statutes. You shall not breed together two kinds of your cattle; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor wear a garment upon you of two kinds of material mixed together." (Lev 19:19)
Reading it flatly, and without further consideration, one can think how senseless this sounds. If we even read Leviticus, how often would we skim over a passage like this and just think, "That's weird, but, oh well, that's part of the Law"? We must think deeper. One of the points that is easily missed is that God was teaching an overall culture of holiness and pure-minded devotion. One of the ways that He got people to think about that was through physical and visible reminders, even in their daily, mundane activities. Through engaging in actions that forced their minds toward the ideas of cleanness, holiness, not mixing with the unholy, pagan people of the land, they would be more inclined to remember how important it was to remain faithful always. Not mixing materials was a daily reminder, even in the way they constructed and wore their clothes, to stay pure, unmixed with sin, and faithful to God. It would be like our putting Bible sticky notes on mirrors and refrigerators as reminders that no matter where we are or what we are doing, we are to be holy and pure. Being a child of God encompasses all areas of life, including how business is conducted, how work is done, and how we do our mundane activities. There may even be more, but the point is that a passage like this, flatly read, is boring and silly. Seen in its greater context and message, it is brilliantly reminding God's people how overarching holiness was to be in their lives. It wasn't so much about the fabric as much as it was about the lesson derived from the process and the action. I even find it intriguing that this comes on the heels the second-greatest commandment.
Of course, there are cautions. We don't want to overdo it. I'm not saying that one has to be some super intellect to study and understand. Nor am I arguing that we should try to see phantom connections or start allegorizing everything. Not at all. Scripture makes the connections, shows the contexts, and leads us to draw the conclusions. Our task is to see them, not to invent things for the sake of novelty.
Bible study is to be a careful undertaking, not a hasty effort at proof-texting that requires little thought or sound exegesis. Such hasty efforts lead not only to poor understanding and bad interpretation, they can lead to rejection of Scripture altogether. Flat-line Bible reading contributes to flat-line spirituality. If people are bored with Scripture, they'll be bored with their "religion."
Let's open our eyes and see the beauty and the depth of God's word, and prepare to be amazed!