In The Eye of The Beholder?

Perspective.5.19.15I was watching a lecture by  Dr. RC Sproul for my Ligonier class, wherein he talks about interpreting the meaning of the Bible. He uses the analogy of art. He says that when we look at art and try to interpret it, we are trying to discern what the art means, that is, what the artist meant when he made the art. Then he talked about the movement in the art community to put emphasis on the meaning that the viewer took from the art, some artists even going so far as to say that they didn’t put any meaning into the art and that the only meaning is what the viewer brings.

That whole thing is so weird to me. How could you make a painting or a sculpture or a poem or whatever without having some intention or feeling or meaning behind the creation? If you were to do that, it seems like it would only be done as some kind of statement on your own perception of the randomness/meaninglessness/futility of life. But isn’t that meaning that you invest into the art? I don’t believe that God thinks that life is futile or meaningless and I don’t think he creates that way, neither his creation nor his word.


But then I started thinking about how when you look at a piece of art, let’s say, Jackson Pollock’s Convergence, just for example, you may be able to discern what the author intended this piece of art to say. You will probably also see some personal meaning in it. It will make you think of things. If you see a meaning in the artwork and the author doesn’t intend it, does that make it invalid or incorrect? Does it mean that meaning isn’t there? Maybe one person just sees chaos. Another might see the streaks of orange and yellow as excitement and happiness. Another might see the little pops of blue as representing little birds and go off on a Disney style fantasy. You could show this painting to 50 or 500 different people and you might get as many different interpretations. The artist could not have imagined all these different meanings that people come up with. I mean, if I look at this very descriptive painting and it reminds me of my first apartment in college and, therefore, I think it is a statement on overwhelmed exhaustion, loneliness and fear. Jackson Pollock couldn’t possibly have foreseen that, 22 years before I was born. (Just for the record: it does not remind me of my first college apartment. It doesn’t remind me of anything. Pollock looks like drop cloths to me.)

But God could. God could bring me to this painting because he knows that in my heart I need to work through the loneliness and fear of my first year of college.  God could know what the paint scheme of my first apartment was like and find a ridiculous painting and show it to me. Heck, if he chose, God could make Pollock paint that ridiculous thing in those particular colors for no other reason than that I would see it 63 years later and make a huge breakthrough on some of my post-teen angst. And he isn’t limited to just the one or two meanings. He could, simultaneously, know the heart of every person that would ever see this painting, know what they are going to need to see and put it in there so they could see it.

When we study a painting, we ask, “What does it mean?” and there can be many answers depending on what each of us sees or what the painter had in mind when he painted it. But when we talk about scripture and we ask “what does it mean?” Dr. Sproul says we are trying to discover what the words literally mean. When he talks about what each of us sees and what it “means” to us, he would call that application or significance. So any given passage can only have one meaning, but infinite applications and significances. Can they all be valid? I believe the answer is a qualified yes. God can not lie or sin, so he could not imbue scripture with a meaning that would do either of those things. But, assuming that the applications we see are consistent with scripture and God’s character, then, I say, yeah. God could have put all that significance in there.

When Matthew wrote his gospel, he couldn’t have known that I would be thinking about God’s attention or that I would be writing this almost 2000 years later, any more than Jackson Pollock could know the color scheme of my first apartment. But God did. And every single word of the Bible was written from their inspiration for ours. God knew every devotional, every blog post, every journal entry that would be written, every struggle revealed, every reassurance needed, when he inspired the scripture. He knew it all at the beginning of time, before he even knit the stars together. When Matthew wrote this, when Jesus said it, God knew that I would be sitting in this chair at my dinosaur of a laptop, quoting it.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
-Matthew 10:28-30

How can we not be constantly overwhelmed by a God this awesome?

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