Misunderstanding, or partial understanding, holds for me the danger
of limiting my vision, of narrowing the Realm of God so that I can hold
it in my hands. For instance, the First Commandment, in Exodus 20:3
and 4, seems to be an easy one to obey. No graven images, no idols,
no problem. Yet a careful, fresh reading of verse 4 reminds me that
I’m not to make an image of anything “in heaven above or on earth beneath
or in the waters under the earth.” I’m not to make an idol of anything
in heaven. And I wonder, has my image of God become an idol?
Do I envision God as only male, only female, only human, only old, only
..., only ..., only? If I have made an idol of my image of God, then
my image of God, based on misunderstanding, is no better than the seed
that falls on the path, the promise that becomes bird food. It will
not nourish me.
Fear of the truth can make my heart like a stone, so that God’s word cannot take root and grow. “You shall not kill,” I read, and “You shall not commit adultery.” “You shall not steal. You shall not give false evidence against your neighbor.” My stony heart wants to add the words which exonerate me: “You shall not kill -- another human being by murdering him or her.” I don’t want to face the truth, that I have said or done things that have killed the spirit of a child; the truth, that I have at times treated other people as things; the truth, that I have claimed as mine that which belongs to all of us; the truth, that I have participated in stereotypes and gossip concerning others. My failure to face the rocky truth of my sin prevents me from experiencing the warm embrace of forgiveness. And the word shrivels and wilts when the heat is on in my life.
A skewed value system leads me to read Scripture selectively, to create a hierarchy of importance by which each passage is measured. “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” God uses the terrifying, thunder-clad mountain, ablaze in lightning and clouded in smoke, to teach me the importance of rest. Yet I don’t want to consider this to be as important a commandment as the ones about killing and such, because my value system says that I must produce in order to be of worth. This is obviously not what God values, but I can overlook these verses because my internal value system says they aren’t as important. My distorted values choke out certain of the passages in Scripture that I need to hear most, kills the very words which could give me new life.
Today, as I read these familiar words again, I ask God for freedom to read them afresh -- to find what has been hidden, to learn what I did not know, to see from a different vantage point. To be rich soil, shaped by the seed into a farm which will bear abundantly. God’s words are sweeter than honey, the psalmist sings, “Thus your servant is formed by them.”