Wednesday, 28 September 2011

the trouble with interpretation...

The picture at left caught my eye today and set me off on a train of thought with regard to matters of interpretation....

One of the ever-present 'features' of the Voldemort discussion surrounds interpretation of scripture.
Some cry: 'plain meaning of the text'.
Others cry: 'it's more nuanced'.
Yet others just sigh in despair and shake their heads wondering what all the fuss is about.
All in our own way attempting to get on with the job of living, loving, and bumblingly trying to serve God.

What are the implications of interpretation when it comes to discipleship?
What if our understanding is all wrong, or misguided?
Conversely, how can we know we may have just managed to get it right?
I think 1 Cor. 13 'for we know in part' is helpful - or provides me with some small comfort.  We mess up: we don't have the whole picture, and the passage continues with the sense that we 'see through a glass darkly', as the KJV  phrases it so poetically.  I don't often go to the Greek, as my proficiency is pretty rubbish, but occasionally, it's a useful way of seeing a well known passage/verse/word in a different way, as the eye doesn't just slide over as easily.  For some reason, I was drawn to do so with this well-loved chapter, and in doing, I've had one of those personal little 'aha' moments, looking at the Greek word translated as 'darkly', αινιγματι... where our English word 'enigmatic' comes from.

Of course we're all bumbling along: why should this take us by surprise?  We worship God known, and yet unknown.  In faltering footsteps we make our way in faith and attempt to follow our energetic, enabling, and enigmatic God.  We explore the journey of the people of God throughout time and various places as they wander and ponder and stumble in the dim half-light of revelation.  We hear the stories of Jesus, and of those who followed him as they furrow their brows and puzzle over just who he might be. 
We look for clues, and take our cue, at times, from them.  And as we do, we see a history of getting it wrong, and getting it gloriously right, and all the stuff that there is in between.
It's a humbling thing.
It's a scary thing.
What if we get it wrong?
Perhaps in that fear of making mistakes,
perhaps in the fear of the unknown, we surround ourselves in the strange comfort of rules and regulations nit-picked to the nth degree that, instead of helping free us, not only bind us, but bind others.

Law - rules and regulations - often get a bad press.
Personally, I think God must be Presbyterian: the ten commandments are helpful guidelines to assist us to live life decently and in good order.  Laws, codes of practice, however one wishes to describe them, are, in their very essence, relational.  The ten commandments are communitarian in context: being in communion with God and one another, being in harmony in both our vertical and horizontal relationships.  This is why the psalmist can describe those who follow God's law as happy:
Ps.119: 1-2 'Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the way of the Lord.  Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart.'
Or link law and delight together - surely an oxymoron :) :
Ps. 119: 16, 77, 174 - 'I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word'/ 'your law is my delight'.

Historically, has there been a shonky interpretation of the word 'law' by the Church when it comes to following God, I wonder?
Has 'law' been misinterpreted and used as a tool to beat people down over the centuries - the ultimate 'power-tool', in effect?
Is law about power...or about love?  
Thinking of the psalmist's delight in God's law, I wonder if seeking after God whole-heartedly might incline us to use the law as a means of grace, building people up, setting the captives free...creating a little foretaste of the kin-dom of heaven on earth and furthering our journey into God, both enigmatic and known? And linking back to 1 Cor. 13... is the law of the Lord actually all about love?
In the end, does love...win?

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