Sunday, January 13, 2008

Not-So-Silly Scripture Tricks

This morning I heard a news story that made my skin crawl with embarrassment. CNN reported that a new movement has sprung up in mid-America. The gist of the story is that some apparently believe that this passage from Isaiah 35:8 -- “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it” -- is a specific reference to modern America's Interstate 35 and that it will fulfill its prophetic status as a "holy highway" only through the dedicated prayers of the faithful.
While this scripture gives us the basis for the entire Light The Highway movement, it also specifically gives us direction for our own lighting of the highway, Interstate 35. I-35: Highway of Holiness is about coordinating our efforts as a people across the nation to reclaim for the Kingdom of God what the enemy thinks is his own.
The originator of the concept of "Light the Highway"...
... is a Texas minister named Cindy Jacobs. She says she can't be sure Interstate 35 really is what is mentioned in the Bible but says she received a revelation to start this campaign after "once again reading Isaiah, Chapter 35."
She "can't be sure." But then again, she seems to think the idea is reasonable. Wow.

To be fair, not all proponents of this cause believe that this passage in Isaiah 35 is a literal reference to the modern American version of Interstate highway I-35. That makes me feel a little better. But, here's what they do believe:
... we do believe that we can use this text in a symbolic way as a catalyst to begin praying, just like those who live in Interstate 40 can use Isaiah 40:3,

"The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God",

and those on Interstate 10 could use John 10:10,

"The thief comes not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
My beef is not with those who feel the need to find ways to encourage others to pray for our nation. God knows we need that. But why is it that some feel that they have to concoct the most convoluted, nonsensical reasons to do so?

The problem here is bigger than it seems. Beyond making followers of Christ look a little silly (no doubt the reason CNN chose to run this story), it also unveils an even more insidious practice that is all-too-common even among those who are not out there doing silly things on national TV. This is the practice of "finding new revelations" and personalized messages buried within the Scripture, then claiming them for ourselves. This practice is similarly revealed in the oft-asked Sunday School question, "What does this passage mean to you?"

May I politely suggest that it doesn't matter what the passage means to you?

Seriously. What matters is simply what the passage means.

Why is it so hard to understand that what really matters in our interpretation of Scripture is not what we think we can "discover" in the text, but what the author of the Scripture meant to convey when they wrote it? No, finding that meaning is not an easy task, nor are we to demand that we have done so exhaustively, but the point is that we at least have to give our best in the endeavor. This is hard work ... too hard apparently, because most of us just don't try.

Greg Koukl points out that the habit of finding personalized meanings in the text of Scripture is an incredibly new phenomenon -- one that has just popped up in the last 150 years. I don't think it is a coincidence that this habit has arisen at the same time that existential, human-centered, philosophical reasoning has become all the rage. If everything else in the universe revolves around me personally, surely it follows that the Scripture was written to me personally.

Notice that the defenders of the I-35 phenomenon insist that we could use Isaiah 40 or John 10 in the same way they are using Isaiah 35. Why could we? The connection is absolutely baseless and absurd. By insisting that we can do so however, these folks open the door for those who could yank any passage, any verse, or any phrase out of Scripture, and then invoke it to defend any idea or practice that "works for them."

This is not to deny that there are implications and applications we can derive from our understanding of Scripture. But we need to remember that the intended meaning precedes any ability we have toward personal application. When we try to connect Isaiah 35 to Interstate 35 we simply look goofy. But when we accept the practice behind the goofiness, we are unconsciously engaging in a dangerously destructive abuse of the Bible.

Friday, January 11, 2008

'Legends' In Our Own Minds

Our family just saw I Am Legend and I can't help it ... the worldview implications of the film compel me to comment. It was a tension-filled, entertaining movie no doubt. I enjoyed it. But the messages it sent speak directly to my mission here at TrueHorizon.

Without giving too much away, let me summarize: A British doctor announces that genetic manipulation of the measles virus has turned it into a virus that, instead of wreaking harmful havoc on people, can attack cancer cells. Testing of the genetically manipulated virus has produced a 100% cure rate in cancer patients. “So you have cured cancer,” the interviewer asks. “Yes … yes, we have.”

Three years later we see a barren New York City that we quickly learn has been devastated by the virus’ unintended ability to mutate into a human time bomb. We also see, on the refrigerator door of our hero, Will Smith, a three year-old newspaper article touting his status as a “Savior” who is working to stop the proliferation of the disease. He is a military officer and medical researcher who is tasked with developing a vaccine to fight the killer virus.

And there our cultural assumptions show through. It is science, human ingenuity and power that make the world work. Smith's heroic character is based in all three. The future of the human race rests on his shoulders.

In contrast, there are a few other nuances in the film. Smith’s wife and daughter pray for him and the sick before they are forced to leave him in NYC. Their prayers are quickly found wanting. A cross dangles from the rearview mirror of the Brazilian girl who later rescues him from certain death. But Smith later mocks her and any spiritual reality on which she claims to rely. In each case the religious overtones are soon contradicted by evil and suffering in the real world. Scientific research seems to be the only really reliable savior for the human race.

The irony rests in the seemingly overlooked fact that it was science run amok that caused all the pain and suffering in the first place. In our insatiable desire to construct a utopian answer to pain and suffering we inadvertently make it all worse.

I don't want to make too big a deal of it all because I really did enjoy the movie. I also don't want to suggest that the human effort to eradicate disease are somehow misplaced or futile. It is a noble cause for which God provided us reason, rationality and compassion. I just found the ways in which the movie reflected the human condition to be instructive.

We believe that human suffering is unfair at best, and proof of the non-existence or impotence of God at worst. It never occurs to us that pain and suffering serve a higher purpose than messing up our "right" to a comfortable existence. We never seem to realize that pain and suffering serve to perfect us and show us the frailty of our humanity absent any reliance on the perfection of a loving Creator. We always look for answers within ourselves and are then surprised when we get let down ... and when we make things worse in doing so. We have a hard time accepting that we can't save ourselves -- especially in the only sense that being saved really matters.