For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by History. That’s probably because I grew up watching time travel stories like Back to the Future, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Quantum Leap with my dad. My favorite episodes of Adventures in Odyssey are when Connie travels back to Biblical times to learn some valuable lesson. The thing about time travel, besides all kinds of conflicting science, is that context matters.
Bill and Ted explaining philosophy to Socrates (Sorry, that’s pronounced So-crates) using Kansas lyrics works out surprisingly well. All we are is dust in the wind… Though I’m not sure how Socrates understood English. But for the most part in time travel movies and in real life, where you are, what’s happening around you, who you are (your ethnicity) – all of these things help define how you receive a message.
Jesus spoke in parables to explain God’s Kingdom – but if we don’t understand the socio-political world of first century Galilee, then we are coming to conclusions about Jesus’ words that maybe aren’t totally applicable. The authors of the Bible wrote in a bubble. They weren’t thinking Gee, I bet [Your Name Here] is gonna glean something from this in a few thousand years so I better make it vague enough to apply to a world with build your own burrito joints, flying cars and government healthcare…
For example, Jeremiah was writing to the Israelites during Babylonian captivity when he said, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Paul was writing to a young pastor in a dysfunctional church when he told Timothy, “..God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Esther was an orphaned sex slave taken by a foreign dignitary when a frightened Mordecai gave that rousing “for such a time as this” speech in Esther chapter 4. Which, by the way, we often glance over how Mordy straight up threatens Esther with God’s punishment if she doesn’t do what he says – namely risk her life by going before the king.
God’s Word is alive – and all of it is useful for teaching (it says so in 2 Timothy, Chapter 3) – but just because it is useful for teaching doesn’t mean we can instantly personalize every Word. Not every promise in the Bible is made to you or me. Just because God did something one way several millennia ago, in a way that made total sense at the time, doesn’t mean that is how He chooses to operate in the year 2018. Or will in the year 2118.
Be mindful of the context of Scripture when you study. Just like a time travel story, we have to use the brains God gave us while also opening our hearts to the infinite God and let His Spirit show us Truth.
The next time you are struggling in your Christian life and someone snidely says “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!” – you can ask them their thoughts on the entire letter to the church at Philippi and how Paul was throwing shade at his other churches who didn’t support him financially as a missionary.