Okay, we discovered last time that what’s wrong with our picture is that the king of spades is red and the ace of hearts is black.
Why do these things work on us? To quote the site where I got this picture…
“Experience has conditioned you into thinking that all hearts are red and all spades are black because their shapes are similar. It’s easier for your mind to interpret them based on that past experience instead of being open to the idea they could be different. We see what we expect to see, not necessarily what’s really there.”
Tihs is te raeson yu cn raed tihs snetnece. As long as the first and last letters of the word are correct, your brain will decode or fill in the rest, and it does it so well you may not even notice taht it’s worng! 🙂 This is why proofreading is such a tricky undertaking.
This brain editing is both a good thing and a bad thing. What helps us quickly make sense of things also potentially hinders our growth as human beings.
Your mind also has the ability to seamlessly gloss over things in the Bible that are unexpected or unpleasant. Here’s what Bible scholar, Philip Jenkins, said in his book, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses…
“WE ARE HARDWIRED TO edit reality. Memory and experience teach us what to expect from the world, but on occasion we encounter facts or situations that fail to mesh with those preconceptions. At that point, a part of the brain comes into play, the component popularly known as the mind’s Delete key. (Its technical name is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or DLPFC.) P. 185
Further down the page, Jenkins writes “that scholars have tried to understand why people avoid having to come to terms with unpleasant moral and ethical realities. This avoidance process is called neutralization.” (Boldfaced word italicized in original.)
This is helpful in trying to understand why sincere Jesus-following, Bible-believing Christians can see the same Scripture texts so differently. Both sides will vehemently argue their position, and both will claim Scripture for their validation. This can also explain why we tend to initially reject or ignore any interpretation of Scripture that’s different than what we’ve been taught.
Like with this famous picture, one will see a young woman, another will see an old woman. But if we’re open to it we’ll see both.
All reformations begin with faithful questioning. This may look like a crisis of faith at first. But this questioning isn’t necessarily bad. As what Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggermann refers to as its “testimony and counter-testimony,” even Scripture has its own internal disputation. We must not fear the cross-examination of our own assumptions but have confidence that it will result in greater objectivity and, thus, prepare us for transformation. This is not losing the faith but strengthening it and giving it fuller and deeper meaning.
The person in this reformative process understands that while God and Scripture never changes, our understanding of what’s being said must constantly grow, which means we will change.
But if we’re not open to this revelatory process (or afraid to change), we’ll stay stuck where we are and be tempted to dismiss any “new teaching,” even labeling it as heresy, even if that “new teaching” is actually based on ancient Christian orthodoxy.
Here are just a few examples of potential red spades and black hearts in our Bible interpretation:
When God told Adam that “on the day you eat of it you will die,” was that a threat (“or I will kill you!”), or was it a warning? (“Because I love you and don’t want you to die!“)
Was the Cross about vicarious punishment or vicarious healing?
Is God’s justice retributive or restorative?
Is the commandment to love Jesus stating a precondition or a promise?
There are many other examples I could give, but I think you get the idea.
Perhaps God has a “red spade” or two for us to see on our journey together. We’ll begin our trek down that rabbit hole next time.