One of the problems folks have in interpreting the Bible is that they fail to realize that different parts of the Bible are written from different perspectives. Take the parable of the sower. At first blush, it could appear that the seed of God’s word lands on the various types of ground, and whatever type of ground you are was how you were from the start, and you have no choice in it. But the parable is from God’s perspective. Even I, looking back, can reflect on those I’ve preached to over the decades. That one responded well and does to this day, he started well but worldly cares took over, she… well, she got in with bad company and stopped responding. But the parable ends with the challenge: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”. It’s over to us as to how we respond to the hearing of the word, the receipt of the seed. But the parable is telling us how God sees it from as it were a bird’s eye perspective. Three of the Gospels go right on after that parable to record the healing of Legion. And that record is written from his perspective. He felt he was possessed by a legion of demons, and the account reflects that, it’s written from his viewpoint, and the Lord Jesus clearly likewise went along with the man’s worldview in order to heal him of it. Thus He uses the language of demons whilst not personally believing in their existence.
A helpful simile is to read the Gospels as if they are the account of various video cameras trained upon the individuals we meet. When we read that Jesus “sat in the sea, and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land” (Mk. 4:1), the camera is as it were filming from a great distance- so far away that we don’t see the boat He was sitting in. But then the camera zooms in close and we read of Jesus turning and looking at Peter, turning and speaking to people, lifting His eyes to Heaven- as if the camera is now zoomed in close on His face and even His eyes. Or with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4; the camera is on the tired Jesus sitting at the well, then on the woman as she speaks to Him, and the camera follows her as she walks back to the town and is met by the men. And so often we can play what Harry Whittaker called “Bible television” with the accounts. The analogy of video cameras is of course limited, because the Bible is not visual film media but text. But it helps, especially in the Gospels, to get the idea. One section has a different perspective to another. John’s Gospel focuses upon recording words of Jesus which were packed with enigma and allusion- whereas the other writers tend not to record those parts of His teaching, but rather His more straightforward language and instruction. This doesn’t mean, as the critics suggest, that Jesus never spoke the words which John records. He did; the Bible is the real account of the actual words which fell from the lips and formed in the larynx of the man Christ Jesus. It’s just that John’s camera, as it were, was turned on when Jesus was speaking in His deeper and more enigmatic style. But it was the same Jesus.
Various parts of the Bible become better understandable once we enquire about perspective. The parables especially repay helpful reflection when we read them asking ourselves ‘From whose perspective is this?’. But the perspective can change in almost mid-sentence. The Lord comments on the parable of the lost sheep that there is joy in Heaven over the one who repents rather than over the “ninety nine just persons who need no repentance” (Lk. 15:7). They were not justified, and they also needed to repent. But the Lord speaks from their perspective; they thought they were justified and without need of repentance. Or take Genesis 1. John Thomas began Elpis Israel with the profound observation that the creation record is written from the imagined perspective of a man standing on planet earth watching it all unfold around him. All the struggles to square Genesis with modern science would be stillborn if we grasp that.
It could be said that faith is all a matter of accepting God’s perspective rather than the immediate one brought to us by our senses. By the rivers of Babylon, there the Jews sat down and wept as they remembered Zion, and many of the Psalms reflect their sense of abandonment by their God. But along comes Ezekiel to Chebar and other rivers of Babylon- and tells the depressed exiles of an amazing vision of cherubim above them, and which they were a part of. The details of the vision were perhaps intentionally too profound to be specifically understood detail by detail. But the overall impression is of intense Divine activity and awareness through His myriad eyes, and that this system, headed by God Himself in person above it, had wheels on earth. And Israel were those wheels. The same is true of the visions of Revelation. They invite the persecuted believer to look upwards and realize that what happens on earth is part of visions of glory, and carefully orchestrated by a loving Father and Son who are moving all things on earth towards their final end in the return of Christ to save His people eternally. Accurate, detailed interpretation was not necessary for illiterate believers under persecution to perceive this basic truth. Or as Paul powerfully puts it in 2 Cor. 4:17,18: “Our slight momentary affliction accomplishes for us an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison; whilst meantime we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal”. The problem is, we focus on the “slight momentary affliction”. People live their whole lives playing the tape of past hurts. She said that, they deceived me, he broke my family, she sold me a useless car. Wriggle and struggle as we will, God says all this is “slight momentary affliction”. But it can only be seen like that if we compare it with the eternal perspective- the eternal weight of glory.
I think of the woman who lived in a night shelter in Riga. She came to our Winter feeding program each day for years, each season she was there. We had a one hour Bible talk before the food, and she never paid any attention. She was always reading through a huge legal dossier of documents, underlining things, making notes, shaking her head, at times shedding tears, shaking sometimes with anger. She had been deceived by cunning lawyers out of the ownership of her property some years ago, and now had nothing. She would get up after the meeting finished, go out for a smoke, and come in again for the food. I saw this pattern countless times over the years. Like clockwork. No matter how compellingly we tried to explain the good news of the things of the Kingdom, both in their present and future aspects, she couldn’t get over her “slight momentary affliction”. Her big bundle of documents was all she had, and she carefully carried it with her in various plastic bags wherever she went, in case she lost it. It was not slight for her, nor was it momentary. It was her whole life messed up. As she saw it. The only other time the Greek word translated “slight” occurs is in the Lord’s invitation to take His yoke upon us, because the burden is “light” (Mt. 11:30). Such “light” affliction is actually put on us by the Lord Himself, as a share in His cross. One day the penny dropped. We always invited questions after the talk. She raised her hand and began asking, something like this: “You talk of eternal life. So ‘eternal’ means… it means… well…”. Her voice trailed away… “It means… eternal, I suppose”. She was baptized, now carries a Bible with her rather than the huge dossier, has a job and a flat of her own. It’s not just the sense of future eternity which must affect our perspective; it is the eternal “weight of glory” ahead, that we shall for ever be concerned with the things of God’s glory, and not our present sufferings.
We all have those mental dossiers which we can carry with us. We cannot change the past. But the good news of the Kingdom invites us, as does the whole language of the Bible, to see things from God’s perspective.