Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ah Lek inherits Heaven and Earth

Whack! The bamboo stick bounced off Ah Lek’s shaven head followed by his “ouch!” “Stop daydreaming,” warned Abba Ah Beng, who is teaching his disciple how to study the Scriptures. Abba Ah Beng is a strong believer of an imported teaching method from Ha-mer-li-ca which states that young minds are empty trash cans, waiting to be filled by their teachers. “Read the text,” ordered Abba Ah Beng.

“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. Romans Chapter 8, verse 16 and 17” recited Ah Lek dutifully with the appropriate swaying motion of his body. For some strange reasons, the Sow Lin Monastery only uses the King James Version of the Bible. No other versions are acceptable. “We are heirs of God” ran through Ah Lek’s mind. Ah Lek remembers Ah Loong from his village. Ah Loong is born with a literal silver spoon in his mouth; being the sole heir of the rich village merchant. When Ah Loong’s father died, he inherited the family business. In the latest village gossip, he has ten concubines and three mistresses, five houses and slaves, and is severely obese (which is a sign of prosperity in ancient China).

“I am an heir of God!” The thought almost jolted Ah Lek off his stool. “God is rich,” he reasoned, “He owns everything. That means, one day it will all be mine!” After he has inherited God’s treasures, Ah Lek fantasies, he will drive to Ah Loong’s house in his brand new Lamborghini with a couple of pretty girls. His mansion will have a hundred rooms. It will be so huge that if he wants to find his wife, he will have to use his handheld GPS locator. He will be ruler of all the nations; presidents and dictators will come to pay their respects to him. He will have buildings and statues built by people who want to worship him….

Whack! “You cannot hit God’s heir!” slipped out before Ah Lek can control himself. “Why not?” asked Abba Ah Beng. “Because one day, I will inherit all of God’s riches. I am his heir. I will be rich and powerful,” Ah Lek, managed to stammer out a reply, fearful of the gleam in Abba Ah Beng’s eyes. “Ah,” said Abba Ah Beng, “heirs inherit when their fathers die. God, however, lives forever.”

We may laugh at the image of Ah Lek waiting forever to inherit God’s treasures but there is an important lesson we may learn from him-that of the correct interpretation of the Bible. More specifically, do we take the words of the Bible literally or not? Ah Lek did; interpreting that as an heir he inherits everything from his father. Titus however understood being an heir of God meant receiving eternal life (Titus 3:5-7). In the Old Testament the Israelites understood being heirs meant inheriting the land of Canaan by a promise through Abraham (Heb.11:8).

Paul taught Timothy that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim.2:16-17). The literal interpretation will be that by Scripture, Paul would have meant the Old Testament because the New Testament, as we know it, has not being written yet. However, all have us have accepted that Paul has meant the whole Bible when he used the word ‘Scripture’ implying that we accept the essence rather than the literal words of Paul. Other examples of accepting the Bible literally is to accept that Jesus taught that he had renounced his mother and brothers (Matt.12:48), that we are to sell all that we have (Matt.19:20-22), and we have to be born again by natural childbirth (John 3:1-9; poor Nicodemus wondered how he could fit into his mother’ womb!). While these are obvious examples of Bible passages not to be taken literally, there are others which are not so obvious.

So what happens? Some Christians begin to pick and choose their passages. We can aspire to be a literal Acts 2 church while conveniently leaving out the part about “were together and having all things in common” (v.44) and “daily meeting in the temple courts.”(v.46). Some stand their grounds and insist that the whole Bible is to be understood literally. To do that, they have to live in their own communities and insulate themselves from the 21st century. The Amish is a good example of these Bible literalists. Those on the other end of the continuum are the Bible liberalists. They insist that the Bible are written by men and are example of good teachings on life and moral values.

How then, do we as Christians, understand the Bible? First, we have to understand that the Bible is divided into different genre: historical, poetry, prophetic or allegorical, and prescriptive. Thus, a poem cannot be understood literally and we must not derive a doctrine from a historical incident recorded in the Bible. Second, we have to be aware of the limitations of various translations (or versions) of the Bible. These translations are called versions for a reason: they only approximate the true Bible or word of God. Each translation of the Bible has their strengths and weaknesses. Different translation reflects the biasness of those who translate from the ancient Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew languages. It is good to have at least two or three different translations of the Bible to compare. Third, Bible commentaries are useful if we recognized that they too have their limitations. It is better to study individual book commentaries rather than single volume whole Bible commentaries. There are scholars have spent their whole life working on a single book or sometimes a few verses of one book of the Bible and are worth reading. Four, put yourself in the place of whom the Bible is addressing. While it may be impossible for us to put ourselves in ancient Israel, we may understand better if we know more about the background, culture and language of the people to whom the Bible was originally directed. Finally, be open to the Holy Spirit as we read the Bible. We must be aware of our human tendency to read into the Bible what we want to hear. Instead we should allow the Holy Spirit to open our spiritual eyes and hearts to what God is saying to us through the words and sentences of the Bible. That, in the final analysis is how we understand the Bible.

Reflection Questions
1. How can you tell whether a passage is meant to be understood literally or not?
2. Which English Bible version are you using? Why this particular version? What other translations will complement your present version?
3. How do we allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the Bible?

Dear Lord,

Help us to read Your Word well and open our eyes to your spiritual truths. Give us understanding in studying Your Word, help us to discern what may distract us and what will draw us into Your depths. Help us to hear Your Voice by the help of the Holy Spirit through Your Word.


soli deo gloria

No comments: