IV. Understanding Scripture
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.
Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,
for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.
By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;
by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.
My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble;
when you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
After I read these beautiful words I looked out over the hay field to the trees surrounding it and observed the wispy clouds that seemed to envelop the very essence of all that was in my purview. “By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place.” The simple experience enthralled me so much because perceiving so many wonderful things that fit together so perfectly was the very act of experiencing the wisdom of God. Looking at the scene, thinking about what I had just read, and comparing it to the condition of my own heart was enough to be able to put that moment into an eternal context and dwell on it for the rest of my eternal existence.
What exactly was it that spoke to me so powerfully? Was it the text itself? Was it its meaning? Was it the encouragement the words brought in light of my broken elbow? Was it other passages of Scripture coming to mind as I read the text? Was it where I was when I read it? Was it the cool evening breeze that picked up and diverted my attention to physical pleasure at just the right moment? Was it all of the various emotions, sensations, and realizations being enjoyed in separate parts of my mind? It certainly was all of these things, but it was so much more than that at the same time. It was all of these elements working together to create a cumulative effect that refreshed my spirit and renewed my focus on God.
A week before this event, I had worked my night shift that Friday morning, and went straight from work to help with my church’s version of VBS (Sports Week). I’d been there helping with the music and mentoring 12 and 13 year olds. I was very tired the whole week, but I felt so blessed to be able to be a part of what God did that week so the fatigue didn’t bother me. Then in a split second I was laying on the basketball court with a fracture in my elbow that required surgery the following Monday. As I recovered I’d been completely helpless and dependent on the wonderful people at my church. But I’m not the kind of man that likes being dependent on people. I love to help, but not to be helped; yet I needed a lot of help this summer. That Thursday evening I was very upset. I couldn’t work, couldn’t pack my stuff for moving that Saturday because I was so tired, could barely cook, and I wasn’t supposed to drive. So the Spirit of God led me outside so that I could experience Him through His Word. He gave me a gift of strength because I had very little left. He led me to that passage, that physical context, and that level of brokenness so that He could breath His own strength into me. He communicated his Word to me through an aesthetic experience. He gave me a gift of realizing a new implication of that passage which resulted in the wonderful joy that is knowing God a little better.
Compare this passage with Psalm 104 and watch a sunset the next time you’re really down. I dare you to not feel something. How does God guide us towards understanding scripture? He does it by connecting His Word to His creation and then back to your heart. That’s aesthetic. That’s seemingly unrelated things being connected in your mind to create a cumulative effect so profound that you can’t contain your joy. Aesthetic education teaches us how to make those connections.
But that’s just part of the story. Let’s address the Bible outside of any other context. Are we supposed to think about the Bible as a sequence of words put together in a certain way so that we know how we’re supposed to live? Are we supposed to read Leviticus and begin stoning people who work on the sabbath, or are we supposed to connect that to Mathew 5, Luke 6, and Romans? Or let me raise another issue. How can you expect a high schooler to enjoy Jeremiah when they don’t have a firm enough grasp on literature to read Edgar Allen Poe? How can anyone understand David’s passion for God when they can’t figure out how to connect the psalms to his life?
Aesthetic Education increases our ability to perceive everything, even Scripture and how it’s integrated with all of reality. Find an artist (painter, dancer musician, etc.) and start taking lessons; not so that you can create great art, but so that you can perceive great art. If you can’t perceive human art well, how do you expect to stand a chance in accurately understanding the greatest literary work ever written? The words of God created the universe. Do you really think you can understand them when they’re written down unless you learn to see and understand the world around you?
Don’t just tell your children to read the Bible. Teach them how.