Why Doesn’t the Bible Explain Itself Better?

One of our design school projects was to draw a notable piece of the architecture of our city. An annoyingly meticulous friend of mine decided to do the very ornate city hall. When it was deadline day, she sheepishly pulled out a pencil drawing that was stunningly beautiful. The main entrance and dome of the hall were rendered in dramatic shading of almost photographic detail, but the austerity and pomposity of the colonialist landmark quickly broke down into quieter minimalistic line-work towards the edges, leaving the composition light and dynamic. It was an inspired balance of tense, intriguing texture and easy, sensitive calm. However, she didn’t realise this. The first thing that she did was to apologise for not finishing the whole thing. Mercifully, time constraints had prevented her from brutalising the harmony of her drawing with oppressive OCD shading from wall to wall.

In studying the ‘unsolved mysteries’ of baptism and ambiguous portions of scripture such as Romans 7, the question on many pairs of lips has been, ‘Why did God choose to give us scriptures that are so full of puzzles and difficulties? It would have been so much easier if he had arranged for the writers to explain themselves a bit better from time to time.’ If, as we believe, God inspired every line of scripture, why would he fail to tell us precisely what we’re supposed to understand by baptism and who ought to be the recipients? Why is it that after 2000 years, it’s still possible to read Romans 7 faithfully in at least two entirely different ways? Why are some things so unclear?

And why did I start out talking about drawing? The reason why my friend’s drawing was better ‘unfinished’ than the monstrosity she had planned to produce is that a drawing rendered in unrelenting detail leaves the eye with no place to focus, and it leaves the mind with nothing to fill in. The weight of competing detail distracts from the centre, and the solution of all visual puzzles negates the need for the viewer’s imagination. In short, viewers are not sure what to look at or why they’d ever want to.

When it comes to thinking, it seems that humans would prefer to avoid having to do it if at all possible. It’s actually useful to be wired like this, because it prompts us to look for patterns that we can apply often, and usually means that we don’t waste time ‘reinventing the wheel’, that is, puzzling through the same kinds of problems as though it were the first time. We think things through once, and then repeat. However, this produces laziness, thinking ruts, and general closed-mindedness too. Some Christians like to use the Bible as a book that helps them not to have to think. They even make the wisdom literature (such as Proverbs), which is designed to make you think, into laws to be applied mindlessly.

I think that God crafted us a Bible that is sharply focused at the centre and blurry at the edges because of the kind of followers that he wants to produce. It is more important for us to think than to have an Encyclopaedia of Everything. It’s more important to learn how to disagree than to know it all.

It is more important to be a disciple than to be certain.

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One thought on “Why Doesn’t the Bible Explain Itself Better?

  1. John Child says:

    Excellent & insightful piece of writing.

    Some other reasons for lack of clarity: hearing one side of a conversation (Paul but not the Corinthians – except a few of their questions), ignorance of recipients/relevant background info/precise situation/precise problem,asking questions the text was not designed to answer, deliberate vagueness (for various literary or progressive revelation reasons),complexity (making us think as Jordan argued & pointing to God’s mind as greater than ours) & perhaps mystery (again pointing us to God’s mind).

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