How do you explain the color red to a blind person? Or any color, really? There’s much the other senses can compensate for when it comes to grasping the essence of something–how something feels, tastes, smells, etc. But how do you describe the essence of color to someone who has no concept of it?
What if I asked you to describe a lion to a person who had never seen a lion? Now take it a step further. What if you gave the hide of a lion to that person and asked him to taxidermy said lion to be put on display? The results might be akin to something like this:
According to Neatorama.com, the story goes as follows:
“In 1731, King Frederick I of Sweden received a lion as a gift from the Bejen of Algiers, but after it died, the pelt and bones were presented to a taxidermist who had never seen a lion. You see the result looks more like a cartoon character than the king of beasts.
Doesn’t exactly capture the essence of what you understand a lion to be, now does it?
Nope. Not even a little bit. I find myself feeling bad for everyone involved. Mostly the lion, though. This beautiful, majestic creature living out its last days in captivity, then to add insult to injury, having its body turned into a horrible caricature put on display for centuries after its death.
And I wonder if we’ve done that with the Word of God.
Under ordinary circumstances, my mind wouldn’t have made the leap from a bad taxidermy job to scripture. It just so happens that I had a rather interesting conversation with a family member on Friday night, thought about it most of the weekend, then received the link to the above story via email from my friend Dorothea.
Before I share the conversation, I need to provide a little back story:
This person grew up going to church every Sunday. Got married and had children, who also went to church every Sunday. By this time, he was more of a Christmas and Easter Christian, but their mother took them every week because that’s what good people did. I’ve known this person my entire life. I’ve spent lots of time with him. I don’t ever recall seeing him read a bible. Not even in church when the preacher says “Turn to Matthew, chapter 3”. He’s like hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people who come to church on Sunday, get their fill of God and think they know Him based on what some guy behind a pulpit tells them. They don’t need to read the bible because the good parts–the important parts–are preached on Sunday morning. The “need to knows”, if you will. I’m pretty sure if I attributed the quote “God helps those who help themselves” to the bible instead of Benjamin Franklin, he wouldn’t bat an eye. He likes to watch Joel Osteen on the Sunday mornings when he misses the service at his church, because that counts, right?
Imagine my surprise when he told me he was attending a bible study.
Imagine my horror when I found out it was a study of the Book of Revelation:
“We started this bible study about the Book of Revelations. It’s pretty scary stuff. I never knew that Catholicism would become the One World religion and that a current member of the Vatican is the Anti-Christ.”
To which my response was, “Whaaaa?”
Followed immediately by me saying that Revelation is subject to many different interpretations, and that it is very often misinterpreted. I may have some doctrinal disagreements with my Catholic friends, but I don’t doubt for a moment that we serve the same God. That they believe in the same Jesus I do. My husband then asked him if this was being taught as truth or simply as the teacher’s opinion. “The teacher’s opinion”, was the response.
But, you see? For a person who trusts what other, seemingly more biblically knowledgable people say about the Word of God rather than the Word of God itself, opinion often become truth.
Just like the unfortunate taxidermist who didn’t see with his own eyes what a lion is, he creates this incomplete, often horrible misinterpretation of its essence.
I know there are a few pastors who read this blog on a regular basis. I’m urging you, if you don’t do so already, to please encourage your congregations not to take your word for what God says, but to confirm what you teach them by studying the bible.
The most effective way to train a person how to spot counterfeit $20 bills is to have them intensely study real $20 bills. The same principal applies to God’s Word.