Stay True to the Bible Text

Stay True to the Bible Text

The art of intentional observation

Note: This article is excerpted from The Bible Study Handbook.

I have mixed feelings about video links sent by friends. I don't want to waste my time, even though there are many funny or interesting videos online. Perhaps I was bored or in a more relaxed mood when I received an e-mail that said, "You've got to see this." The link took me to a YouTube video called "Awareness Test." The video began with a lineup of young people, half dressed in white, the others in black. A pleasant male voice said, "How many passes does the team in white make?" Each team had a basketball and passed it to their teammates while the players wove in and out of one another like a complicated dance. I concentrated on the game and tried to count, but the ball was passing quickly and I soon lost track. Twenty seconds later, the narrator said calmly, "The answer is thirteen. But . . . did you see the moonwalking bear?"

What in the world is he talking about? I thought as the footage of the basketball game was rewound to the beginning lineup. This time, rather than concentrating on the ball and trying to keep track of how many times it changed hands, I allowed myself to look at the scene as a whole. Sure enough, from the right side of the screen, a person dressed in a bear costume stepped into the game. The bear did the moonwalk, a dance move made famous by the late Michael Jackson, while the ball whizzed by him on every side. It was a ridiculous sight: a costume you might see at a children's fair, a dance step from the 1980s and a frenetic basketball game played by a group of urban youth.

The video ended with a plain black screen and the statement, "It is easy to miss something you aren't looking for." My determination to do well on the awareness test caused me to miss an obvious feature of the scene. The moonwalking bear was in plain view the whole time, and yet I had failed to see it.

We Limit Ourselves

The video had been made to promote bicycle awareness, but its point is broadly applicable. When driving in a new place, we miss a beautiful landscape because we are preoccupied with finding the right turnoff. In visiting an art gallery, we barely notice remarkable pieces lining the halls as we find our way to the gallery of a famous painting. Our preoccupations limit what we are able to see or notice.

I believe this is particularly true when reading the Bible. Unless we train ourselves otherwise, most of us will come to the Bible looking to reinforce what we already think. When we read it, most often we are looking for a word of comfort, an illustration of a point we want to make, or evidence of a dearly held theological position. This tendency has had tragic consequences, enabling Western Christians, for example, to uphold and defend the practice of slavery for centuries. They came to the Bible with preconceived notions of racial superiority, and they found narratives and verses to support it. They seemed to be blind to the many other passages and ideas that would challenge both the practice of slavery and the worldview that undergirded it. Perhaps they were so focused on looking for justification of slavery that they missed the moonwalking bear.

Commit to Finding Truth

It's easy to point fingers at believers in other times and other places, and criticize them for their blindness toward issues that we think are obvious. But before we take the speck out of another's eye, we must first take the log out of our own. All of us are guilty of using Scripture to reinforce our dearly held views and practices.

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