We are creatures of perception. It is impossible to approach anything objectively, because everything we see, hear, think, or witness in this world must be filtered through whatever lens which our minds choose to wear. What will our lens be? Our sensibilities? Our opinions or notions about what is right? What about Scripture? You would be surprised how many Christians actually do not look at the world through the lens of Scripture. Let’s see what this looks like.
In the 16th century, John Calvin, the great Reformer of Geneva, Switzerland, wrote these words:
“Just as eyes, when dimmed with age or weakness or by some other defect, unless aided by spectacles, discern nothing distinctly; so, such is our feebleness, unless Scripture guides us in seeking God, we are immediately confused.”1
This is a great claim. But it seems that, at least to the average Christian, this should be common sense, right? After all, what Christians, as “people of the Book,” should have Scripture as the lens through which they see God and the world, right? One would think so, but this doesn’t always happen, even in the Church. And you might be surprised at how pervasive the problem really is.
For example, how often do you hear the phrase, “God wouldn’t do that”? I hear it a lot. What about this: “That may be the God you believe in, but my God is a God of love”? Or: “The God of justice would never punish anyone”? The problem with statements like these is that they make many claims about God that are true, and thus appear to be correct conclusions, presenting real problems about God. Indeed, God is a God of love, and God is a God of justice, etc. However, the problem arises when we take true characteristics of God (e.g., justice, love, mercy, etc.), define them according to our personal or cultural sensibilities, and then re-apply these newly-defined descriptors back to God. This is looking at God through the wrong lens.
This is why it is very important to see God—and everything, for that matter—through the lens of Scripture…and nothing else. When we as 21st century Americans see the God of Scripture being defined as a God of love (cf., 1 John 4:8), yet this same God threatening to cast the wicked into hell for eternity (cf., Revelation 20:11-15), this seems to us to be a contradiction. Doesn’t love mean that we overlook people’s faults? Doesn’t love mean that we accept people for who they are? Doesn’t love mean that we always seek the highest good of others? The problem is twofold. First, we haven’t defined fully what biblical love is when all we define it as are these. Second, we have erased the Creator-creature distinction when we demand that God be held to the same standards we are. Of course, for humans (who are all on equal, sinful footing—this is important), God demands that they treat each other with grace, acceptance, and forgiveness. However, for God (who is on equal footing with no one, because he is holy), his love is perfect.
What does this mean? Perfect love must hate. God is holy, which means he must hate unholiness. God is righteous, which means he must hate wickedness. God is justice, which means God must hate injustice. God is justice, which means he also must punish wickedness.
What happens is that we define what we read about God by the world around us: our own fallen sensibilities of what we think is right, our own opinions of what is good, and our own cultural sense of what is just. This ought not be so. Rather, what we should be doing is looking at God and the world through the “lens” of Scripture.
We must judge what we see by Scripture, not Scripture by what we see. When we do the opposite (like so many people do), we are not just making a mistake, and we are not just misguided; we are doing a very dangerous thing. We are questioning God, the very standard of all the things we claim to know so well. That is offensive to God.
Here are several ways to avoid doing this:
- Realize who and what you are. Just as Calvin said above, “our feebleness” is “immediately confused” unless “Scripture guides us in seeking God.” We are feeble-minded creatures, incapable of knowing God without divine help. The sooner we think we are better off than we really are, the sooner we begin to remove the proper lenses from our eyes.
- Realize who and what God is. On the same token, we must realize who God is, that he is infinitely higher than we are. Before we begin to utter judgment toward God, let us remember his words: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).2
- Resolve to study the whole counsel of God. So much of what I have described above—falsely defining love, justice, and mercy as it pertains to God—is due, at least in part, to an ignorance of Scripture as a whole. A person who has read and studied all of Scripture will be much less likely to arrive at many of these conclusions. Be diligent to study all of Gods Word. Would you be angry if someone read merely one personal letter you wrote to a friend and yet decided that they knew all about you, even passing criticism and judgment on you for what you said in the letter? Sure! How do you think God sees it when we do the same thing?
- Ask questions. One thing I am noticing these days is that people don’t ask questions about anything. Rather, they assert, often brashly and without thought—only pure emotion. Don’t be one of those people. Scripture says, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). If you see something in Scripture that seems to grate at you, please understand: that is okay. But, don’t be a fool. Fools rush to judgment. Ask questions. “Google” it (with discernment, of course). Better yet, find a respected teacher of the Bible, and ask them. But, don’t be one of these people that rushes to emotional judgment. We all know someone (or many people) like this, and none of us want to be them.
In the end, we as the Church need to be a people that get back to putting on Scripture as the lens through which we see God and the world. If we fail to do so, we are walking on this ice. That is a place none of us want to be. We are only hurting ourselves and offending God. Let us, by God’s grace, be better.
- John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, 2 vols., Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), I.xiv.1.
- Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.