Frederick W. Metzger is a Presbyterian minister and curator of the Biblical Museum of Canada, Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." — A Proverb
"The Holy Scriptures are the spectacles through which we are brought to know the true God in such a way that our minds fall under the compelling power of His self-evidencing Reality." — John Calvin1
In his famous painting, "The School of Athens," Raphael depicts Plato in the centre as pointing with his right hand toward heaven, while Aristotle standing beside him points down to the earth. This is an excellent portrayal of the fundamental difference in attitude between two types of people, the humanistic and the spiritual.
Perhaps I might refer to colour-blindness by way of analogy. The girl, let me call her Julie, was colour-blind, and her doctor put her through the test used by psychologists to discover colour-blindness. The subject was shown a number of cards dotted all over with little circles of different colours. On one of these cards, all the little green circles, whether light or dark, traced out a word. To the doctor's eyes this word leaped out, since, being well able to distinguish this colour, he automatically isolated the circles outlining the word from all the circles of other colours. Julie, on the other hand, not being able to distinguish green, could not read the word. There was also a control-test: one of the cards contained the word outlined by the green, grey and brown circles, all of them colours which Julie fused together. This word she was able to read, while her doctor was not able to see it.
We all look at the same object, the world, or people. According to our personal attitudes we see there a physio-chemical story or a spiritual one. If we lack the spiritual disposition to perceive the true meaning of things we will be no more able to see those meanings than Julie was able to read her doctor's word, or he of hers. So there is no real exchange possible between those who see in a person or in nature merely a vast physio-chemical or psychological mechanism, and those who discern in them a meaning, just as there could have been no debate between the doctor and Julie on the basis of the cards they were looking at together. If one is colour-blind, or wants to be so, i.e., undiscerning, that person remains incapable of seeing the spiritual aspect, the higher meaning of things.
One Bible — Many Conflicting Views
Thinking further, using this line of reasoning, the question arises, "Why are there so many differences among spiritually minded people who see and interpret the Bible in so many, often contradictory ways?"
Rabbinic Judaism cannot be accused of neglecting the Scriptures, and yet the testimony of Paul, once a rabbi himself, is that the rabbis, with all their diligent searching of the Scriptures were not able to see what was there for them. A veil was over their faces (2 Corinthians 3:14). They discerned a law of God that they were obliged to observe and a form of religious worship, but God himself in the fullness of his mercy and grace and the awfulness of his judgement was hidden from them. Today one may find rabbinic Judaism in divergent factions and opinions in Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Hasidic Synagogues.
It would be grossly unfair, however, to leave the impression that only in Judaism is there conflict like this. Amongst sincere Christians one finds similar factions such as Liberals, Conservatives, Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists of many shades and colours.
A good example of conflicting views about the Bible is the subject of the "End Times" or "The End of the Age." Some Christians armed with Scripture quotations will fight tooth and nail over the Pre-Millennial, or the Post-Millennial view to prove their correctness and to reject the other parties' positions, and eventually reject one another.
Of course, there is nothing wrong in the ordinary sense of recognizing various theological positions, in fact, it is important to work through our own biblical worldview. There is a legitimate place in theology for the last things (eschatology) and an understanding of God's gifts (charismata), and there is also a place for self-examination (Lamentations 3:40, Hebrews 4:12, i.e. psychology).
Those Amazing Inkblots of Dr. Rorschach
For some, it would take a large dose of humility to admit what Thomas F. Torrance states, "On a dualist basis of thought it is rather easy to bend the evidence to suit what we want to make of it, or at least to fit it into our preconceived framework of thought."2 This very real flaw of the human mind is plainly shown by the popular psychological test invented by Dr. Rorschach. The Rorschach test attempts to measure both non-intellectual and intellectual personality traits. This well-known and widely used projective inkblot test is named after Hermann Rorschach, a Swiss psychiatrist, who began his experimentation with inkblots as a means of stimulating and testing imagination. He proceeded on the principle that every performance of a person is an expression of his/her personality. In responding to inkblots, the subject is generally unaware of what is being revealed by telling what is perceived. This kind of personal perception provides the helping professional with a valuable aid in understanding the client's true personality and problem area.
In administering this psychological test, some use the formula: "People see all sorts of things in these inkblots; now tell me what you see, what it might be for you, what it makes you think of."3
One may ask the same question in regard to the Scriptures, for the Bible can easily function as Rorschach's inkblots for its reader.
Psychology comes to our aid
The Rev. Robert Schuller, the once self-doubting pastor, in his moments of introspection may half-agree that there is something in the accusation that his focus on self-esteem leads to a kind of religious narcissism. Says he, "The old cliché, is that you can tell a minister's sins by what he is preaching against and I guess that applies to me."4 It was refreshing to hear him recently on the Hour of Power broadcast humbly admitting and warning that "There is great danger in Possibility Thinking unless there is Lordship over logic, for the human mind has an infinite capacity to rationalize" (March, 1996). The title of his message was, "The Lordship of Jesus Christ over Possibility Thinking."
It is intriguing that a previously backslidden alcoholic lawyer, C.I. Scofield, should have seen in biblical history the recurring cycle of Law and Grace (Judgement and Mercy), and through the influence of John Nelson Darby, one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren Movement, popularized the erroneous doctrine known as Dispensationalism, in the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible (1917).
Some are drawn to extreme emotional charismatic experiences, e.g., being "slain by the Spirit," falling backward at the touch of the evangelist. Incidentally, the falling down phenomenon and the uncontrollable laughing, the strange animal noises and the imitating of animal behaviour observed at the Toronto Blessing in 1995/96 do not have much to do with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit, but they are recognized by some Christian medical professionals as self-serving hypnotic episodes and expressions of mass-hysteria.5 John Stott, royal chaplain and president of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, has three objections to the experience: First, the statement of the leader by the Toronto Blessing: "Don't analyze, don't ask questions. Simply receive!" "I think that is both foolish and dangerous," says Stott. "We must never forget that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. Secondly, I cannot possibly come to terms with those animal noises. The whole Bible tells us that we are different from the animal creation; it rebukes us when we behave like animals and calls us to be distinct. Nebuchadnezzar's animal behaviour was under the judgement, not the blessing, of God. My third problem concerns all the falling."6
God indeed answers prayers for physical or emotional healing, yet healing "miracles" are no guarantee of the working of the Holy Spirit. Everyday hypnotherapy may produce similar cures. A more sobering example of this is the fact that such healings occurred in the atmosphere of the mass rallies and speeches of Adolf Hitler. In recent times hypnotic manifestations can also be recognized in the operations of the Moonies, the Church of Scientology, and in the insane tragedies of Jonestown and the Davidian Texas cult.
Persons with hidden guilt, anger, hatred, prejudice, low self-esteem, and similar negative emotions, or suppressed sexuality, tend to project these feelings — quite unconsciously — into their views of the Scriptures and rationalize their particular "Christian" position.
Your Perception Can Be Protected
Individual attitudes may powerfully distort our capability to see and hear reality. This is why the biblical principle of the corporate approach offers protection, "to be strengthened in power through his Spirit in your inner being, praying that Christ may make your hearts his home, praying that love may be that in which your life is rooted and on which it is founded. I pray," writes apostle Paul, "that in fellowship with all God's consecrated people you may have strength to grasp how broad and long and high and deep Christ's love is, to know that love of his which is greater than we can ever understand, for then your life will be filled with all God's fullness" (Ephesians 3:14-19, Wm. Barclay).
This protection from emotional and intellectual pitfalls is offered by the Church's corporate and historic confessions of faith, e.g., the Second Helvetic Confession:
"Only those interpretations of the Holy Scriptures do we accept as genuine Christian interpretations, which are drawn from the Scriptures themselves (in the spirit of its language in which it was originally written, with consideration of the circumstances in which it was written, and evaluated by comparison with similar or different, numerous and clearer texts), which agree with the regulations of faith and charity and especially serve God's glory and the salvation of people."7
"You Will Recognize Them by the Fruits They Bear" (Matthew 7:16b, NEB)
Those, whose hearts are filled with the genuine loving and caring attitude of God by the Holy Spirit, who are not looking for their own blessings but rather for the benefit of others, are the people able to see the positive messages of the Bible with clarity.
Scripture admonishes us to "Try always to have the same attitude to life as Jesus had" (Philippians 2:5, Wm. Barclay). Bible reading with this attitude has led to many dramatic and positive changes in history. John Calvin, the refugee lawyer from France, made his life's motto: "I offer my heart as a living sacrifice unto God!", and with this attitude was able to envision the first biblically based and true democratic government for the city state of Geneva. Calvin's Christ-like attitude resulted in the establishment of such representative governments for Great Britain, the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Centuries ago, Jan Comenius of Moravia, another refugee scholar, with a similar attitude, became the pioneer educational reformer. William Wilberforce, who carried out a successful political campaign to abolish slavery, was inspired for his task by the repentant slave trader, John Newton.8 Newton's Christ-like attitude still motivates multitudes to a deeper commitment through his immortal hymn:
- Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I was once lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.
- Calvin, John, in Thomas F. Torrance's paraphrase taken from Calvin's Institutes, I.6.1; and Commentary on Genesis — The Argument. T.F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1982, pp.64-65.
- Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology, p.81.
- Freeman, Frank S. Theory and Practice of Psychological Testing, Revised Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. New York, 1960, pp. 504-532.
- Time magazine, March 18, 1985, p.66.
- I was intrigued when I learned from E. Mansell Pattison, Senior Psychiatrist with the National (U.S.A.) Institute of Mental Health, that he found in his research that statistically most of the extreme charismatics drawn to the experience are either those in their teens and early twenties, or people in their sensitive mid-life, and that "the 'Speaking in Tongues' phenomenon is a learned experience under hypnotic suggestion."
- Christianity Today, "An Interview with John Stott", January, 1996, p. 32.
- The Creeds of Christendom, edited by Philip Schaff, Vol.III., The Second Helvetic Confession, p. 239 8. Douglas, J.D., General Editor, The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1974, p.704.