The mystery in god's word
November 1, 2017 - By: Rachel Buggs
“God is often, on the surface, somewhat unclear in His message or teaching in the scriptures.” -r.b.
I have heard it said that God is a God of order; therefore, if you receive a word of revelation from Him (either directly or indirectly through another individual/prophet), it should be perfectly clear, or such revelation is not truly a trustworthy word from God. I believe this statement about God has its origin in 1 Corinthians 14:33 which in the English Standard Version of the Bible states, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” This verse is a concluding statement following a discussion by Paul about how a church gathering should be properly conducted, including: worship, teaching and with respect to various types of revelation from God. It is found within a subheading titled “Orderly Worship.” Within this text, Paul specifically addresses the proper conduct of those delivering revelation, including prophetic words. He basically says that individuals who receive revelation from the Lord should deliver such in a considerate and orderly fashion so that all those present can witness and understand what is being spoken. Evidently this type of order in the church was not always present and was a source of confusion and frustration to many individuals. Therefore, Paul addresses this situation with specific instructions and supports his reasoning by stating in verse 33 that God is a God of order and not “confusion,” and we should conduct ourselves according to His standard. This statement of Paul regarding God’s character should be carefully applied to other situations such as understanding God’s word(s). So…please let me share with you my thoughts about the clarity, or lack thereof, in God’s word(s)!
God is often, on the surface, somewhat unclear in His message or teaching in the scriptures. (This shouldn’t take you by surprise if you have read very much of the Bible!) A case in point is the use of proverbs and parables in the Bible to convey a message to an audience. The messages conveyed therein are often times anything but clear but, upon careful examination, can be properly understood and interpreted. In fact, after Jesus shares a parable of the sower with a great crowd, his disciples came to him and said, “‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand…But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear’” (Matthew 13:10-13, 16). After this statement, Jesus quotes Isaiah which essentially contains the same explanation that Jesus has just spoken. So this tells us that God sometimes purposely “hides” the meaning behind a particular word or message that He has spoken or conveyed. Should we be offended by this? No! As Jesus explains in Matthew, there is important reasoning behind this strategy.
This past week, I found an excellent explanation of this truth and strategy of God in “Why the Reformation Still Matters” in the words of Huldrych Zwingli (1484-1531). Zwingli was “introducing reform on the basis of his reading of the Bible, which he had come to regard as the supreme authority in all matters” (16). The prevailing thought of the church in that day was that there was a need for scripture to be interpreted by the church or its special agents; e.g. priests. At this time, the church disallowed the common man from having personal access to the scriptures because it believed that the common man could not understand them and interpret the messages found therein correctly. Inherent in this way of thinking is the belief that God has hidden the truth in His word so that only “special individuals” can ever attain understanding from Him and others should be prevented from even reading or attempting to understand them on their own. Zwingli adamantly disagreed with this way of thinking and according to him, “proverbs and parables are not attempts to hide the truth. Rather God is teaching us in ‘a gentle and attractive way.’ They provoke us to search out their meaning so that ‘we value it more highly than if it had been presented to us plainly.’ ‘The truth which is discovered is received the more firmly and valued the more highly, and the divine lesson is busy and active all the longer in the understanding, and its roots sink deeper into the heart.’ So God uses parables and proverbs to enlighten those ‘having a mind to learn from the Word of God.’ They mask the truth only from the person ‘who comes to the Scriptures with his own opinion and interpretation and wrests the Scriptures into conformity with it’” (62-63). I believe this is a beautiful explanation of God’s intentions and purposes behind some of His words and teachings.
This same explanation holds true for some messages and revelation received from God through dreams and visions. In a trusted resource on dream (and vision) interpretation that our ministry has come to use extensively, authors Thompson and Beale state, “the majority of dreams are metaphors, parables, and riddles. Therefore, someone has to interpret them” (38). God uses these means of communication often times to “augment what He is saying to us through the written word and prayer” (46). Dreams are an effective tool of God to do this because “dreams and their correct interpretation bypass the heart’s natural defense mechanisms and allow the Holy Spirit to bring conviction and correction” (46). But as the authors explain in their book, we need to understand that these types of communication from God require careful examination and care in interpretation, but this is achievable! And what I know from experience is that when the message is ultimately understood, just as Zwingli said, “its roots sink deeper into the heart.” After all, we have all heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Likewise, certain prophetic words from God, follow this same pattern. Such messages may not appear to be perfectly clear at first glance, but upon “searching out their meaning” the truth will be discovered and will be “received more firmly and valued the more highly” than if the message was plainly stated by God. I have found this to be absolutely true in our ministry’s experience of receiving words of revelation for those we are ministering to as well as for ourselves.
So, how does one best “search out their meaning” – the meaning of prophetic words of God. I’m glad you asked! Here are our recommendations, and please note that the order is important:
1. Ask God for further revelation!
2. Look to scripture and search out any key word(s) found within your specific words from God, and then let the Holy Spirit guide you to the pertinent verse(s)/passage(s) for God’s intended message for you.
3. Use other biblical resources, including: Christian writings, commentaries, dream interpretation books, etc. for possible explanations and/or meaning.
4. Share and discuss with other trusted, discerning Christian peers.
5. Be on the look out, and ask, for affirmation from God of your tentative conclusions.
While this is not always a perfect process, we can trust God, in His perfect timing, to give us complete and full understanding. However, it should be noted that while His timing for understanding may come in mere minutes, it also may not come for a period of years! Consider the example of Joseph from the Old Testament who had two pertinent dreams when he was 17 years old but did not see the meaning behind them come to fruition, or possibly fully understand them, until approximately 20 years later!
So…if you have ever struggled with how God speaks and how you can fully understand the meaning behind His revelation to you, I hope that what I have shared is of great help!