The classic doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not care to deny the difficulties in the Bible, any more than the apostle Peter did when he talked about the things “hard to understand” in Paul’s scriptural writings. But God has loving purposes behind even those difficulties.
Jen Hatmaker recently launched a kerfuffle in the evangelical blogosphere (meteorologists have started to assign these kerfuffles their own names, like hurricanes) by reconsidering her stance on a hotly contested biblical doctrine. I won’t get into that particular issue herE (though I do not think it is trivial). It’s part of her reasoning for changing her position that interests me in this post:
Thousands of churches and millions of Christ-followers faithfully read the Scriptures and with thoughtful and academic work come to different conclusions…. Godly, respectable leaders have exegeted the Bible and there is absolutely not unanimity on its interpretation. There never has been.
Empirically, she’s got a point. Lots of them, actually. Logos sells the Counterpoints series, after all. Christians of all sorts disagree about all sorts of Bible statements. Combine this fact with our culture’s viewpoint that what one sees has everything to do with where one is standing—and what do you get?
The Bible becomes a wax nose, interpretation a human power play, “orthodoxy” the name for the opinions of the winners, truth a human invention rather than a personal property of the one true God. In the oft-quoted words of Yeats, Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Could this possibly be God’s intent behind giving us the Bible? No.
I’m writing a brief series of posts on the clarity of Scripture. Last week I clarified what this historic Reformation doctrine actually claims—namely that the Bible is clear about salvation and profitable for reading by people who are not clergy—profitable for teaching, for correction, for instruction, and for training in righteousness. Major moral questions are clearly answered, otherwise the Bible would not be providing this training it claims to.
Nonetheless, grasping a clear message is not always easy. God is allowed to have purposes for his Word that you wouldn’t have thought of, and some of them he accomplishes by giving us texts that require real effort to understand.
Let me just list off briefly some of the benefits of Bible difficulties:
God calls us to prayer through Bible difficulties.
Many years ago I faced a major life decision. As I prayed and thought and studied, I realized that my decision hinged on the interpretation of one difficult passage. I beat on that text, like Luther beat on Romans. I was desperate to understand it. I called out to God repeatedly. And though it took a while, I believe God gave me the wisdom I prayed for. Clarity was hard-won in that case.
If you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:3–5)
Sometimes I make it easy for my children to win a game I’ve invented for them. Sometimes I insist that they stretch themselves by enduring the difficulty of finding a well-hidden Daddy. I may hear them from my hideout grousing, “This is too hard!” But when they find me, their joy is all the greater.
Call out for insight. It’s there, but it’s not always on the surface.