20201012 If God is light, how is it that he dwells in darkness?

Monday Musings for October 12, 2020

Good morning, Musers,

Today I told an earnest seeker to relax and read the Bible. Just because the words she is reading are in God’s word, this does not mean that the normal — that is — the pedestrian rules for reading are suspended. In fact, the opposite is true. God happily talks to us pedestrians! ... and the fact that he talks to pedestrians as pedestrians is a cardinal tenet of this ministry.

God used the common language of common people to communicate uncommon things in Scripture. But, because he used normal language to write the Bible, if he changed how words work in the Bible so they would work differently than they do in other books, that would be a bait-and-switch on his part. And given that he optimized us humans so we can parse, store and evaluate written information, pulling the rug out from under us like that wouldn’t make sense.

Why is it then that so many people read the Bible as if its words worked differently than normal words? I can think of a few reasons, but perhaps the main one is that, although people “know how to read” not everyone knows how to read critically; they just cruise along. But you can’t (legitimately) pull meaning out of sentences without an epistemological warrant, and too many readers don’t understand how this limits the possible meaning of the words and what a great help this limit is in discovering the actual meaning of words.

Consider the word “hear.” It appears thousands of times in Scripture. It has at least seven different meanings. Yet some people insist that the physiological meaning of the word hear (He even makes the deaf hear) imposes itself upon hearing as understanding (Whoever has ears, let them hear) — just because these both show up in the Bible.

It’s not reasonable to force meanings together like that, but people do this all the time — especially people who are looking to discredit Scripture; they see “connections” that don’t connect as contradictions. But words don’t work this way. No word has a meaning aside from its context. Therefore, context determines the meaning of the word more than the word itself does.

The Bible has an advantage here: the basic communicative unit in the Bible is the story — and when we are talking about context, the story is king! But a side-benefit of the story structure is that it is encapsulated, so story units are only loosely responsible to one another. So independent uses of the same word in different books, genres and story units do not constitute a contradiction.

For instance, I’m an evangelical Christian, so I’m all over the fact that God loves sinners! (Psalm 36:5; John 3:16; 1 John 4:8). This is our bread-and-butter! The problem is, God hates sinners too (Psalm 5:5-6, 11:5; Romans 1:29-32)... and those looking for a fight call this as a contradiction.

But we understand that it is not contradictory for a loving God to create volitional people — then define sin and educate them about it... but punish them when they snub their nose at him. God hates people who destroy his property (themselves). In fact, he punishes them (Revelation 21:8). But in character, he is still a proactive and imminent lover of humankind (Romans 5:8).

This is how salvation works. People who were hated by God become his children (John 1:12), so the statements that God loves us and hates us are not in contradiction, and as we will see, the terms light and darkness fall under the same rules. Those are the topic of today’s Q&A.

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