by Barry Newton
The brief editorial seemed straight forward enough. So, why was my son disagreeing with me so strongly?
A few weeks earlier I had received a supplemental issue from one of my magazine subscriptions. Both I and my son had read its introductory remarks.
The editor began introducing this special issue by musing about his nephew who was just beginning high school. “It was he I had in mind when I was putting together this … issue on science and faith.” According to this editor, what his nephew “will need is a handbook on science and faith, … a compendium of all that we really know about the origins and development of the universe, and how that knowledge squares with religious belief.”
And thus it was during a rally of ping pong with my son that I casually remarked, “I found it interesting that the editor’s nephew was the reason for this supplemental issue.” Immediately my son objected. He declared the editor had not claimed his nephew provided the impetus.
After rereading the introduction, I remained convinced I was right. The following day my son and I playfully defended our respective viewpoints. But now, after further reflection, I can see that he is right. I had been blind.
Why was it hard for me to perceive that having someone in mind while working on a project does not necessarily imply he was the impetus for the project?
One school of communication theory has a ready answer. It envisions a gulf existing between our interpretation of a text and what the author intended to communicate. It claims that our understanding of a document is limited to merely revealing something about ourselves. It argues that we are trapped in what they term a hermeneutical circle.
Even bad ideas can sometimes be partially right. My original viewpoint involved projecting upon the editor my frequent inspirational source for writing. Often I discover in the people, events and ideas swirling around me the impulse to write. And so, when the editor described the needs of his nephew, he seemed to me to be revealing his inspiration for creating this special issue.
Before the folks, who assert we are doomed to merely hearing ourselves, proclaim victory, I did not remain trapped. The gulf is not insurmountable. We can have eyes that truly perceive what another is communicating. Applying these thoughts to scripture, we can hear a voice other than our own.
Nevertheless, barriers can work against an accurate comprehension. If we bring the baggage of an erroneous religious tradition, or faulty convictions from painful experiences, or misguided assumptions or misdefined key words, it will be more difficult to hear in scripture God’s authentic message.
Jesus encouraged people to strive for eyes that see and ears that hear. He also cautioned us to consider how we listen.
Hearing God’s voice begins with a tenacious openness to understanding God’s word to us, regardless where the chips fall. Contrary attitudes such as merely defending our convictions will cause us to fall short.