If you’re anything like me, you know how powerful a strongly held belief can be. I’m not talking about faith; faith is different than belief. I have faith in Jesus. I believe Mac is better than Windows, the moon landing was not a hoax, and no matter what anyone says, whole milk is better for your health than skim. Beliefs are not necessarily attached in any way to our faith, but they often are. For example, a belief in the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12) is a natural corollary to faith in God, but it is not the central issue of faith, and many people of faith disagree on what “gifts of the Spirit” even means. Faith is for God alone. Granted, if we have faith in God, then our most strongly held beliefs will be based on His Word. But what happens when these beliefs get challenged?
Today in church, Val spoke about seeing truth through our “cultural lens”. The beliefs and priorities that are the product of the culture we live in can refract and distort the truth. Thinking about this concept, I think the distortion that is the natural result of being corrupted creatures covers everything. This cultural lens can even include our own preconceived interpretations of Scripture. Since they are our most strongly held beliefs, they are also the most difficult to objectively examine. The interpretations that have been taught to us by our pastors and our parents and our grandparents are what we cling to, but how often do these traditions interfere with the truth in the words? Considering how many wars are fought and people are killed over this very question, I would say it happens more often than not.
There was a time in the not too distant past that I held a set of beliefs that were rooted in what I now believe was a misunderstanding of the nature of God's Word. They were common beliefs. I daresay many among my circle of friends hold many of them. Gradually, I found myself almost against my will, having my mind changed for me. As I saw this happening, I struggled with my faith. I worried that if I no longer held these beliefs, did that mean I no longer had faith? I opened myself up to God and begged for truth and understanding. He made me understand that a faith that is predicated on a belief in this passage or that passage being interpreted a certain way and no other is not really faith at all. It’s a belief in something that doesn’t exist. While beliefs may be predicated on faith, true faith is never predicated on beliefs. If our faith is in God, and we keep communication open, we have to be open to change everything we once thought was right, even if we thought those beliefs were rooted in faith, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) I invited the Spirit to shift and change my beliefs and priorities and I wound up with an outlook drastically different from the one I started with. Could I still be wrong? Of course I could, I’m still only human. But now I realize and accept that my understanding is imperfect.
I realize this sounds like a condemnation of Scripture, and that is not at all what I mean. Scripture is vital to understanding the nature of God. But our interpretation of Scripture must always be suspect, for the very fact that it is us doing the interpreting.