Maybe this post is going to end up being too cryptic for people other than me to make sense of it. But in it I want to articulate a comforting mental resolution to a painful problem. So let me try to explain what is on my mind.
Let’s start somewhere. So, let’s start with this morning, when I exchanged a greeting on Facebook with a dear friend from my youth. The memory of the fellowship we shared as young believers is still sweet and I am so grateful.
And yet, there is a problem. The people in churches like her church would have serious concerns about the spiritual safety of those in churches like mine, and vice-versa. Both groups firmly believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and in its plenary and verbal inspiration. Both groups love God and put their confidence in the finished work of Christ.
The differences, though, are deep and significant. This side of heaven, I cannot hope to see the two come together. In all the earth I had one friend and brother, BR—but he has gone to be with the Lord now—who was solidly in the other group but with whom I could discuss these matters. And we would sit in our respective camps and chat away happily. I am quite sure that he was one of a kind.
I say this, because some years ago I got to talking with a lady from that camp, a very godly lady, who is a missionary and extremely gifted as a speaker and writer, and someone who is very intelligent. Initially, she was delighted to catch up with me, but as the conversation progressed and she realised that I was in a Reformed Baptist church, she was aghast and spent the rest of the evening pleading with me to see “reason.” She left quite dejected and disappointed. And I did not know how to comfort her.
Remember how God had to remind long-suffering Job that he did not really know a lot about God’s world?
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)
I have been thinking that it must be the same about God’s word too. Even the great theologians, for all the painstaking faithful work done in their lifetime, must have just scratched the surface of all there is to know.
Maybe we can understand it like this. Let’s say 200 people are given an A3-size board with a scratch-off picture on it. One would need to scratch off the surface to find the picture underneath. Let’s say that everyone was given the same picture. And this picture was a detailed one about a busy marketplace. Let’s also say that the picture was created, not with lines but with fine print of words in varying colour tones. Let’s then say that the text comprised a short sentence repeated 100s of times.
Digressing a little, the artist of this work was Korean artist, Gwang-Hyuk Rhee. A framed copy of this hung on the wall of our lounge in my childhood home in Calcutta. If you went up close, you would find that the art work is cleverly created out of the text of Matthew’s gospel. I did not like the picture, and my father was a bit worried when I told him that the person in the picture looked like a beggar. But then I was only about four or five at the time. Convinced, that it was not good practice anyway to have a picture of Jesus, in the light of the second commandment, we did not have any more pictures like that after we moved from Calcutta.
Anyway, we were saying that all 200 have these identical scatch-off marketplace pictures. Now supposing, the 200 people were given two minutes to scratch off the coating and look at the picture. Ready, set, go. When two minutes are up, what are they going to find? All responsible scratchers would have found the repeated text. But as for the marketplace details, no two participants would have the same information.
I think our situation with the holy scriptures is something like that. The Lord has given us the scriptures to seek Him within its pages, in the hope that we might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
The Lord for reasons that we cannot know now, has allowed His people to know Him in part. But one day we will know fully. So depending on how we are trained to scratch, we will find different things. We will be clearer about some things than others. And when we are not clear about some things, we probably conclude that everyone has to be just as clueless.
The picture is the same, and the truth is one. But we are unable this side of heaven to know more than our church’s allotted portion. Unless you have a friend like Brother BR, who you trust, who has spent all his life scratching a different part of the picture to you. But this is extremely rare. Having a friend like Brother BR who you trust and him scratching another part of the picture is usually paradoxical—doesn’t generally happen.
This example I have come up with, about the picture will have limitations. Even as I write this, I feel like I am dreaming, and that when I awake, it may not make sense. But I will complete this post properly, just in case it does.
Here is what I wish all God’s people would do. Pay much attention to the recurring message, which is the power that constructs the picture. It is the uniting factor. Look for the gospel of Jesus, which is the power of God unto salvation. Whether or not you believe that there is more to the picture than what you see, please, please, let’s hold on to the gospel and share it. But if only we could understand that we’re all only scratching the surface of the knowledge of God and His plan, we may be better able to put up with each other.
Where were you when We planned that the Son would die to give you life?
Why did I, Almighty God, who made the constellations, and who set in place the laws of mathematics and logic, not use My power and great wisdom to work out a less-bloody plan?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
When was the first sin in the heavens sinned?—surely you know!