Handle With Care
I testify and warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book [its predictions, consolations, and admonitions]: if anyone adds [anything] to them, God will add to him the plagues (afflictions, calamities) which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from or distorts the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away [from that one] his share from the tree of life and from the holy city (new Jerusalem), which are written in this book.
An observant teacher once said, “God created us in His image, and we’ve returned the favor. We’ve created Him in our image.” All of us see the world through our own eyes, both physical and spiritual, and we tend to interpret biblical truth to make if fit our preconceived opinions. That’s natural but dangerous.
Early in the Bible, Moses instructs God’s people not to ass to or subtract from God’s laws(Deuteronomy 12:32). Here, at the end of the Bible, John gives a similar warning, specifically about the prophecies in Revelation. For centuries, people have been fascinated with the dramatic vision of worldwide calamities that will occur before and when Christ comes again. Scenes of carnage that must have been unbelievable in the first century make sense in our day of mobile warfare and nuclear arms. Some of us try to fit our daily news accounts of the Middle East into chapters of Revelation.
John warns us, though, to be careful- very careful- to avoid shoehorning prophecy into today’s news or to interpret the scenes too specifically. Is it exciting to think about what prophetic scenes might look like in reality? Sure, but we need to hold God’s message in the highest regard and read it with reverence. The Reformation teacher John Calvin wrote detailed commentaries on every book of the Bible-except for Revelation. He couldn’t write about it, he explained, because he didn’t understand it well enough.
No Scripture is exhausted by a single explanation. The flowers of God’s garden, bloom not only double, but seven fold; they are continually pouring forth fresh fragrance.
Of great concern today is the move to interpret Scriptures from a non-biblical world view. It’s easy to inject our culture, environment, and human reasoning into our perception of what the Bible teaches. There is even a questioning of the authenticity, inspiration, and authority of Scripture. Some of the more popular speakers and teachers seem driven to present some view that is radical and attention grabbing so that they can get published. Some who are seeking recognition of higher education seek to write dissertations that set them apart from the status quo. The danger in this is that denying or questioning the absolutes of biblical truths leads to subjective response to every situation. There’s even a phrase coined- situational ethics. Situational ethics teaches that every situation calls for us to subjectively choose the proper response. For example, there may be times, according to this theory, that it’s best to lie so you don’t hurt someone’s feelings or to create an uncomfortable situation. But this issue with this is that it becomes easy to justify not speaking truth.
We are told that we shouldn’t speak corrective words for if we call out something we are being judgmental. But the truth is if we love others we will always call them out when we see them engaging in destructive behavior.
None of us are experts of biblical interpretation, but there are a large number of areas that need no interpretation. God is pretty clear, for example with the Ten Commandments. Jesus is pretty clear in the Sermon on the Mount. The two Great Commandments are simple and clear: Love God and love your neighbor.
The Jews were given ten laws but by the time Jesus came they had increased to over 600. I grew up in a day when hundreds of business deals were closed with a given word and a handshake. Now we require lengthy contracts that spell out every detail. We have to ask why did ten laws become 600 or a handshake become a lengthy contract. The simple answer is because those who wished to break a deal or to violate a law sought out exceptions and every exception had to be addressed.
The reason we have to meet and discuss over and over what the Bible teaches or we question its authenticity and authority is because we wish to circumvent something and to figure a way to override its teaching on the subject at hand.
Imagine you were driving along a road that took you around a cliff and over a bridge that took you across a deep chasm. Wouldn’t you be glad to see that there were guardrails on the cliff side and on both sides of the bridge? They aren’t placed there to restrict your travel but to keep you safe. In the same manner the absolutes of the Bible aren’t designed to keep us from enjoying life and living but to guard us and keep us from harm. When we go to the zoo there is a reason that the wild animals are in cages. They might be incredible to see and we might be tempted to pet the grizzlies but zookeepers know the nature of grizzlies so they build cages to protect us from ourselves. Otherwise we might think that sleeping grizzly looks harmless and go over to pet him and lose a limb or our lives.
God the Creator knows the things that bring hurt and harm to us so in His word He restricts us from practicing them. God knows, like every wise parent knows, that we need boundaries. He knows that if we throw off every restraint, we would self-destruct in a short time.
The strategy of the devil is to cause us to question God’s Word. That was his strategy with Eve in the Garden. “Has God really said?” That was the first question and it’s still the very same question being asked today. Should I love my neighbor and if so who is that neighbor? Should I return the money the cashier gave me over what my actual change was? Should I wait for marriage or is it ok to have sex before marriage since we love each other? Is marriage something more than a piece of paper or should we just live together? How does God define marriage? What about homosexuality and transgender? Do we choose to follow social responses or do we choose to accept the Bible view?
Each of these questions have at their root the question of “Has God said?” or is the Bible a collection of opinions and views written by people with a restricted view, influenced by their culture and social norms?
Both Old and New Testaments warn us of adding to or subtracting from what the Bible says. Most of us are convinced that our view is the correct one without ever searching out what the Bible actually says. Quite often when we begin to seek our guidelines from the Bible we find that some things we thought were true aren’t.
Let me share a personal story to illustrate our need to see the Bible as the authority of God. While there might be times when we chafe at some of its restrictions, we also benefit from its truths. When I was 25, my dad committed suicide. The prevailing teaching was that suicide was a sin that sent the individual to hell. I had accepted that as a truth, but I couldn’t reconcile that with my dad who had been a devout Christian, preacher, and a man of God and prayer. So I began a journey of seeking and reading the Bible. I read it through from cover to cover. Surely, I thought, a subject this serious would merit space in the Bible for after all going to hell is pretty serious. I found nothing. There simply were no scriptures that addressed the subject that I could find. I realized that moment that sometimes what we say God said isn’t accurately what He actually said. As Eve responded to the serpent’s question, she said what God said and then added a few words. God had said, “Don’t eat” and Eve said, “Don’t touch or eat.” See how easy it is to add something to what the Bible says?
It’s just as easy to subtract especially when it says something we don’t like or want it to say. When I look at people, especially little children, I don’t always want the Bible to say, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” but I know it’s true. I don’t always want to forgive or love my neighbor but I know that’s what God expects. I don’t always feel like a child of God but I accept that I am because the Bible says so.
I learned a little song as a child that sums up the point this devotion is trying to make:
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
And I know if I accept that as truth I must also accept the rest of the Bible as true. I’m not smart enough to sort out what I can keep and what I can throw away. For me and I believe for all, we must accept it wholly or reject it wholly. It’s not a buffet where we can pick and choose. I pray today that you will open your heart to embrace the Bible as the authentic, authoritative Word of God and choose to conform your life to it rather than trying to conform it to your life.
Dr. John Thompson