What Baggage Do You Bring With You into Bible Study?
I recently shared how I first met my husband, on a blind date. My hubby says, “After that night, the rest was history!” Adamantly, he would tell you that he just knew. Knew what? He was going to marry me, and we’d live happily ever-after.
That blows my mind! How do you “just know?”
For me, things weren’t so simple. I didn’t see the clouds part in the heavens like he did on that first date. No. I carried too much “baggage” with me.
My heavy suitcase held all my presuppositions and assumptions about men. Meaning that I carried with me everything I thought I knew about men and every experience I had ever encountered with men.
Oh! For sure, some of what was in my bag was helpful. My presuppositions and assumptions about men that were true provided healthy direction. After all, there is a place for things like discernment and caution… especially when dealing with the opposite sex in a dating situation. These provide a safe guard, a defense if you will.
However, my bags also included presuppositions and assumptions about men that were untrue. Certain experiences, encounters and preconceived ideas clouded my vision. This baggage hindered me from seeing the man directly in front of me for who he really was, a sincerely good man. Rather, I had a lot of notions about who I thought he might be. It took time to discern that my false assumptions were exactly that: false. Untrue.
The exact same thing happens in our relationships with God. As we seek to know God through His Word, we bring baggage. Without realizing it, before we even open up our Bibles to begin studying, we’ve already assumed some things about Who God is. The wide variety of ideas, assumptions and presuppositions, about God come from an equally wide variety of sources, including our church traditions, Sunday school, life experiences, cultural background, family beliefs, our worldview and so much more. Meaning as we approach the Bible, we carry with us everything we think we know about God and every experience we have encountered with or without God. Some of our notions about God are true. But many of our notions about God are false. Flat out not true.
For example, depending on whether or not we have a gracious earthly father, we are likely to assume some things about the grace of our heavenly Father. Our life experience with fathers carries baggage, good and bad. If a young woman’s earthly father remained abusive or absent, seeing God as a loving Father who will never forsake her is difficult. Whereas if a young woman’s earthly father treated her as the apple of his eye and was present in her life, God’s steadfast love and kindness are more easily comprehended.
Cultural backgrounds influence our view of God and the Bible as well. In our western, individualistic culture, we tend to focus on guilt. However, in eastern cultures, which tend to be more community-driven, shame compels people. No one wants to be the bad egg on the team who lets the entire family down. This leads to shame. The difference between guilt and shame significantly impact how people understand and interact with God and His grace.
Personal experience and cultural backgrounds along with a host of other influences can affect how we approach God through the Bible. Sometimes the suitcases that we bring with us into study can be a hindrance and a detriment on our heaven bound journey to know Him.
When studying the Bible in order to know and enjoy God, we need to lighten the load and remove our presuppositions and assumptions about Him. That’s a fancy way of saying, “Let go of all those things we think we know about God and the Bible!” Rather we want to seek to understand the personal and cultural Ancient Near East experience of the original author and the original hearers of God’s Word. I often use the analogy of removing our 21st century glasses and putting on our Ancient Near East glasses in order to see and understand the world at the time a particular book of the Bible was written.
Removing our 21st century glasses is easier said than done.
Just like the Israelites in the Old Testament and the Jewish religious elite of the New Testament, we can be stubborn and set in our ways when it comes to belief. Yet, coming to the God of the Bible assuming things about Him smacks of arrogance. When we assume, suppose, think, speak and act as if something is true about God or His Word that is really not true, our minds are closed and our hearts are hardened. It takes humility to let go of our 21st century ways of thinking and understanding. Humility recognizes our lack and our need for cultural understanding when approaching the Bible.
Jesus did not fit the Messianic paradigm of the first century Jewish leaders. Because of their assumptions and presuppositions about God and His law, these leaders became stubborn and set in their ways. They were unable to see Jesus for who He really was: the true Christ, the Messiah, the King, the Son of God.
Those of us familiar with the Bible can fall into that same Pharisaical trap. Presuppositions and assumptions can hinder our ability to understand the true God of the Bible. Many of us bring years’ worth of Sunday school flannel graphs into Bible study. We picture a smiling Noah, smiling animals, the sun and a rainbow. Yes, Noah was the recipient of God’s grace. Life is good. But how easily we learn to sweep away the storm of sin and destruction. To be clear, I am not bashing Sunday school teaching methods. Bible study also involves age appropriate learning. As a visual learner, I happen to like things like colorful flannel graphs! But even these good things affect our assumptions about God as we seek to know Him. When we approach the Bible, we want to be aware of what we carry in our “suitcase.”
I always enjoy studying the Bible with someone who is brand new to God’s Word. Their suitcase seems lighter than mine. New believers come recognizing their need. This is humility. They come curious and ask amazing questions! They also come to the Bible with wide open hearts to better know their Savior.
In the Mandarin language, the word for happy, 开心 (kai xin) literally means “open heart.” I’ve long been fascinated by how an open heart that seeks to know and enjoy God is truly a happy heart.
Currently, I’m wrapping up the Simply Bible study of the gospel of Mark. I find myself imagining a different ending for the first century Pharisees and scribes who are diametrically opposed to Jesus. They stubbornly hold onto what they think they know, what is familiar to them. What if instead of thinking they had all the right answers, these first century Jewish leaders could have recognized their own assumptions about God and His ways? What if they had come to Jesus curious to know more? What if instead of hardened hearts that continually test Jesus, they had come with open hearts?
Open hearts. That’s my prayer for us as we seek to know and enjoy God through the Bible. Coming to God and His Word with hearts wide open, we learn to be honest with Him about the presuppositions and assumptions we carry. He longs to help us leave any extra baggage with Him and hand us a pair of Ancient Near East glasses that we might know His rest. His burden is easy and His yoke is light. Here is happily ever after.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Lord, give us open hearts. Please help us all to lay aside any untrue assumptions and suppositions about You. Give us eyes to see and enjoy the fullness of joy and abundant life- the rest- that comes from knowing and experiencing You through Your Word.