Jef Caine – Graphic Designer
As the year is coming to a close I am rounding out my Bible reading plan with the latter books of the Old and New Testaments. These are the deep cuts.
While the New Testament epistles are getting clearer and more concise, the Old Testament is going the opposite direction. I’m currently working through the major prophets, some of the most cryptic and baffling writings in the entire canon. Divine credentials aside, it’s safe to say these books are long and confusing. So, what meaning is there to be found in these writings?
The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel (the weird parts) are rarely preached on. How do you craft a sermon around pages and pages of epic destruction and despair? What’s the takeaway? I’m no biblical scholar, but I’m choosing to believe that all scripture has value for today. Here are some themes and principles I’ve adopted to try to find some meaning in the text.
Enjoy the poetry.
As a graphic designer, I’m all for enjoying art at surface value. When it comes to poetic language and psychedelic imagery, the big four don’t disappoint. If you find the writings of Isaiah totally baffling and incomprehensible, that’s ok. Think of the text more as an abstract painting than an infographic. Embrace the mystery!
It’s not about you.
Tempting as it may be to find those one-for-one comparisons to your own life, be willing to accept that they won’t always be there. While you may be going through a tough season at the moment it’s not necessarily akin to living as a prisoner of war who has just seen their city destroyed.
In his book ‘What is the Bible?’ Rob Bell insights that Americans in particular may have an especially hard time identifying with the themes of the scriptures.
The majority of the Bible was written by a minority people living under the rule and reign of massive, mighty empires… This can make the Bible a very difficult book to understand if you are reading it as a citizen of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.
Sin is systemic.
When Jeremiah calls out Israel for their idolatry and injustice, he’s speaking to a mass audience. It’s a puzzling principle for our highly independent culture but the call to repentance goes for both the individual and society at large. Systemic sin has been much discussed in recent days when it comes of issues of race and equality. Each of us has our own personal agency, but we must all share the burden and the consequences of our nation’s actions.
Sit in the sadness.
One reason these books are difficult to preach on is they offer very few solutions. A writer may go on for several chapters in endless lament over the downfall of society. This is processing; this is grieving; there isn’t always an easy answer. In Matthew 5:4 Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who mourn’. Often the best thing we can do for the suffering is listen to their story.
Also, be wary of rushing to find the happy ending. In the book of Ezekiel God puts flesh on the dry bones but that’s not until chapter 37. The literature reflects the history. Restoration comes but it takes a lot longer than we want it to.
It’s not about the future.
I used to think the prophetic books were so confusing because they were abstract descriptions of things to come. While this is true of certain passages, the majority of the writings are speaking truth to power in the present day. And by present, I mean thousands of years ago. This is where a little research into the historical context of the authors will go a long way.
There is much more to be said about these books and I’m the first to admit much of it has gone over my head. The themes of the Bible run deep and can take several readings to process. One thing I’m learning this year is that the ideas presented in the Bible are fresh and provocative to this very day. I’m confident that the next time I read the prophets it will be like reading them for the first time.