Seeing what you want to see

GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 574 • October 22, 2020

SEEING WHAT YOU WANT TO SEE AND
GETTING THE ANSWERS YOU EXPECT AND WANT

An acorn dropped on Henny Penny Chicken Little’s head and she began cackling to alert her world, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.” A great number believed her, and a great number are still convinced that she was and is right, it is happening, or it’s going to happen. It hasn’t happened yet, but, of course, that does not prove it won’t.

A wooly-worm caterpillar was crossing the road. An excited observer picked it up, noted that its orange stripes were wider than its black stripes and was elated to declare there would be an early and extended spring.

Punxatawny Phil Groundhog emerged from his burrow, saw his shadow and darted back into his hole, having by his action made his one and only weather prediction for the year. Those who observed and interpreted his behavior said we need to be ready for six more weeks of winter and a delayed spring. Whom should we believe, the wooly-worm or the rodent – should we believe either of them? If either is reliable let’s dispense with the weather forecasters on radio, television and news papers – skip the Farmers’ Almanac too.

Stipulated signs and omens can usually be manipulated and interpreted differently. A seriously overweight diabetic knew the local bakery was having a sale on decorated donuts. He prayed, “Oh Lord, if You want me to have some of those delicious donuts, let there be a parking spot in front of the bakery and I’ll take it as a sign that it’s OK for me to do it. After seventeen trips around the block a spot opened up, right by the shop’s door. “Thank you Lord for your kindness and consideration, and your permission.”

A girl sat forlornly pulling the petals off a flower – “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…” She didn’t like the answer of the final petal. So she got another flower and pulled its petals off to get a “second opinion.” When the two results didn’t match she did it again with a third flower – “two out of three” would be conclusive.

When you’ve lost something and you are looking everywhere for it, why do you always find it in the very last place you look? Why couldn’t it be in the first place you look? Why does it always have to be in the last place you look? The answer is very simple, really. When you find what you’re looking for, you stop looking. If you found it in the first place you looked, that would be the last place you would look. That would be a case of “the first shall be last,” wouldn’t it?

As a corollary to that, have you noticed that whenever we have a question, when we get the answer we want we stop asking the question? I remember a cartoon I saw once (in about 1973 – I can’t recall the name of the one who drew it or the church bulletin in which it appeared) which still makes me laugh at the absurdity and the honesty of it. This seedy looking hippie type guy said, “I really enjoy getting high on LSD. I asked the preacher if it was OK, and he said NO, it was not OK. So I went over his head and asked the elders of the church, and they said NO, not under any circumstances – and if I did it anyway they would have to put me out of the church. So I asked my friend Fred and he said he thought it was OK, and used LSD himself occasionally. I was so glad to finally find someone with common sense.”

On this last illustration you might be inclined to ask, why not just say, “the Bible says” – not the preacher says, the elders say, the church says, culture says, the government says, or my friend says, but rather God says, the Bible says. I’ll tell you why that would not be convincing to some: they do not like what the Bible says, what God says. So they keep asking until they find some supposed “theological authority” (such as a famous preacher – you can probably name a few famous and highly respected preachers who do not believe the Bible in everything it says), or some popular “science guy” atheist or agnostic who questions not only the accuracy and veracity of the Bible but the very existence of God and denies not only the miracles, mission, message, and present ministry of Jesus Christ but doubts whether He ever existed and suggests that Christianity is a human construct, a myth, wishful thinking devised to control society and culture. Having found some “authority” who says what they want to hear, they stop searching for valid non-prejudicial answers. I will repeat: when you find what you are looking for, what you want to find, you stop looking. When you find something, anything, that you don’t want to find or believe you mark it as an error and then reject the whole source – such as the Bible – as unreliable and “filled with errors and contradictions” – and look for corroboration from other anti-biblical skeptics like yourself. When you find some straw you can grasp and hold to you give up the search and feel fully vindicated. What you find often depends upon what you are looking for.

“That’s the way I see it.” That may be a good answer if one has perfect vision. But few do. Which is why eye glasses with corrective lenses are ubiquitous, why optometry is not only so necessary but so profitable. Having duly corrected vision allows one to say, with some validity, that’s the way I see it and others accept it as corrected and necessarily correct. We Bible believers typically use “proof texts” to support answers we give to questions people ask. To us the text we cite clearly and unequivocally makes the point we want to make, leaving no room for argument or dissent – it proves us “right.” It is disconcerting and we are often disappointed when the querist reads the passage and we say, “See there?” and the person replies, “That’s not the way I see it. It doesn’t say what you say it says. Here’s the way I see it, and my opinion is probably as good as yours.” It’s even more troubling when he or she can show you the errors in your own assumption about what the text really says, in context and supported by cross-references. Then you feel foolish – maybe you begin to wonder, “What else have I got wrong? How many of my opinions are just opinions and not proper understanding of scripture?” As someone has said, “Opinions are like noses. Nearly everybody has one and they are not alike but each one functions as a nose is supposed to.” So it’s true, I guess. My nose and my opinion are as good for me as your nose and your opinion are for you. But the truth may be lost to both of us.

Don’t read the Bible to find out what you think it says or may be saying, or something you can interpret to support a point you want to make. I tell you, few of us common folks are properly equipped and prepared to translate, interpret, and expound upon its contents. Read it to find out what it actually says – what God or Christ or the human authors guided by the Holy Spirit say. I tell you sincerely, many of us use proof-texting not to learn but to validate our prejudices and preconceptions, to prove what we already believe or want to believe. And when we find something that seems to mean or can be made to mean what we want it to mean we stop looking. We would be better off and God would be better served if we quoted scripture rather than interpreting it.

I remember when the hymn “How Great Thou Art” began to circulate among the churches. It immediately struck a responsive chord in worshipers and for a time may have been the most frequently-sung hymn anywhere. Everyone wanted to sing that song. I remember a sweet, sincere, and completely dedicated sister in the church where I preached at the time, when we had a visiting preacher teaching us how to improve our singing. When he asked for suggestions about songs to discuss, this dear sister, wife of one of our elders, said we ought to sing “How Great I Am.” Everybody giggled. I thought then, but didn’t say it, and still think she made a kind of Freudian slip – preachers sometimes think they are God’s gift to the church and enjoy being told how great they are, though most are modest enough not to say it about themselves. I also think we in the church of Christ like to boast about “How Great We Are,” how much the religious world and the kingdom of God have benefitted from what we have accomplished as the church. People who want to be people of God, people of Christ, Holy Spirit filled and empowered Christians need to know first how Great our God is and how great a Savior we have in Christ, and then how greatly we are blessed to be His people. As for the “signs” – be sure you don’t read them as you’ve been predisposed to do. And be sure they are clearly taught as signs in God’s Word, the Bible. <><>

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