When I was a young believer, I always admired people who
were literalists when it came their understanding of scripture. I felt this way because I thought these
people carried a higher level of faith than the rest of us that enabled them to
literally believe some of the things written in the Bible. When I began to read
the Word my thinking changed.
I read the words of Jesus where He said if your eye offends
you, pluck it out. He also said if your
hand does something offensive, cut it off. I always found it interesting that the same literalists who spoke to me about
their literal interpretation of God and His Word always had both eyes and both
hands fully intact and functioning as we talked. I began to wonder if they
would also turn the other cheek if someone kicked down their front door and
started to harm their family. Maybe Jesus was saying something different that
is not discovered on the surface of a slavish literalism. At that point my own literalism
about the non-essentials of my faith began to lose some of the intrigue they
once held for me.
I have come to realize an uncomfortable fact – to some
degree we are all selective literalists. We see so much of the Word through the
lens of our personal bias and background. When Paul wrote to the church in
Ephesus he said, “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display
his wisdom in all its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in
heavenly places”. This rich variety
makes a literalist nervous because it doesn’t allow them to force the variety
of the church into their narrow box of interpretation.
When the selective literalist inside me gets uppity and
prideful about my understanding of what I think the Word means, I am reminded
of what the prophet Isaiah said, “’My
thoughts are nothing like your thoughts’, says the Lord. ‘And my ways are far
beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the
earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your
thoughts’”. These words of Isaiah invite
each of us to walk gently and humbly with other people when we are representing
the Almighty God from within our narrow version of selective literalism.