The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
- Exodus 24:12
“What forearms me against all these Reconstructions is the fact that I have seen it all from the other end of the stick. I have watched reviewers reconstructing the genesis of my own books in just this way.
”Until you come to be reviewed yourself you would never believe how little of an ordinary review is taken up by criticism in the strict sense: by evaluation, praise, or censure, of the book actually written. Most of it is taken up with imaginary histories of the process by which you wrote it. The very terms which the reviewers use in praising or dispraising often imply such a history. They praise a passage as ‘spontaneous’ and censure another as ‘laboured’; …”
- C. S. Lewis, Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism, an essay in the collection – Christian Reflections
Before we get to the C. S. Lewis quote, let’s look at the Scripture. God gave Moses more than the tablets of stone. God gave Moses the laws that the people would live by, beyond the Ten Commandments. God gave Moses the instructions for the Tabernacle and everything that made up the Tabernacle. Was this where God recited everything in the Bible up to that point? But the verse above says that God gave us these laws and commands to instruct his chosen people.
To lead up to the quote from Lewis, Lewis described an incident regarding J. R. R. Tolkien and how some critics had divined what was going on in Tolkien’s mind to prompt Tolkien to write about a specific topic in a specific way. Lewis, as one of Tolkien’s friends and fellow member of the Inklings, knew that the critics were as wrong as they could be, because Tolkien had discussed what he was writing and his mindset at an Inklings meeting. Yet, critics are paid very good money to make fools of themselves.
Then again, I once heard someone talk about Carl Sandberg’s poetry. Two people approached him and gave their interpretation of a poem. He replied to each of them that they were correct in their interpretation, but the two interpretations were obvious contradictions of each other. To Sandberg, the way his work of art made you feel was, in essence, the interpretation of the poem.
Yet, God gave us the Bible for instruction. Sometimes, that instruction is not as clear as we wish it to be. When you read a variety of blog posts on the same bit of Scripture, you will get widely differing interpretations for that verse or group of verses. Are these writers like the people interpreting Sandberg’s poem, or are they simply at different points along the narrow path that leads to God?
Yes, sometimes a blog writer can be wrong. Sometimes, blog writers, including me, have apologized for a wrong interpretation. We all need to grow and the key point that we need to remember is that Jesus wants to have a relationship with us. Doing whatever it takes to strengthen that relationship is growing in faith. Some focus on prayer and meditation. Others focus on Bible study. Still others focus on Christian fellowship or service to others. When all of these make up the human parts of Jesus, they are all needed, but the spiritual part of Jesus changes our attitudes and desires.
Now if you made a scale for growth in all those areas, no two people will be exactly the same, thus we get differing opinions and connections to our path of faith. Providing a critique of another person’s post criticizes that other person from your point along the path. If they are in error, including me, that critique might be helpful as we each grow – as long as the critique is done with that in mind.
And why bring this up? I am going to quote the next paragraph of the Lewis quotation tomorrow in a ‘review of the year.’ It’s a self-critique, and I may be gentle with myself in the comments.
But as for interpretations, or even “reconstructions” as Lewis puts it (reconstructing history by guessing the author’s state of mind), we cannot be mind readers of the authors of books and essays. We cannot know what a text meant to that author, only what it means to us, but as for the Bible, there is a clear interpretation. It is possible to understand the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit guides us as we read it, so that we can become more like Jesus every day. We may never reach perfection in this world, but we can get ever so close as we continue to strive to be more like the best friend we will ever have, Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.