Finding What Things Mean

The Lord Jesus Christ confronted the Pharisees with this startling statement: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice'” (Mt 9:13).

Perhaps the reason this directive is startling is because the Pharisee were the type of people who ought to have known what Hosea 6:6 truly means. These people were to the Law and the Prophets what Ted Turner is to cable news – they knew their stuff. And Jesus, of course, knew they knew their stuff. He certainly was not oblivious to their knowledge as his comments elsewhere indicate. But they had a hermeneutic problem. That is, they knew what Hosea 6:6 says, but they were off the mark in relation to what it means. Their problem had to do with interpretation.

Notice that Jesus did not say, “Go and memorize Hosea 6:6.” Many times Christians will default to Bible memory as a solution to the human problem. Go and memorize these 200 verses and then all your problems will be solved! Of course, I’m using hyperbole. But you do get the point. I should be careful to indicate my own belief that Bible memory is a very good thing. Our church will be beginning the AWANA program for children in January 2013, which is focused on Bible memory. I believe Bible memory can be extraordinary and useful for the Christian walk. But Bible memory only moves the verse inside the mind (and perhaps the heart). This is necessary, but not sufficient. Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means,” not just what it says. Meaning is what we are after when it comes to understanding the Bible. It is not all we are after, but we must have it.

This is why the following concept is so important, “God does all things for his own glory.” That great truth becomes an interpretive lens for every text of Scripture and every event of our lives. What glorifies God more? Mercy or sacrifice? So what does it mean that God desires mercy not sacrifice? Why would he desire one of those over the other? What does this “mean” for how we live our lives? But then what is mercy? What is sacrifice? Are they mutually exclusive? If not, is Christ setting up a priority of one over the other? These types of questions must be asked of this and every text of Scripture.

But the idea of coming to understand the meaning of things is not only for texts. I believe we must also attempt to understand the meaning of events and circumstances. The axiom, “God does all things for his own glory,” applies here just as it does to texts. For example, what does it mean that you are getting married? What does it mean that your grandfather died? What does it mean that Nov 5 is election day? Are these events sort of isolated incidences with no bearing on real life? Or do these events mean dramatic change to everyday decisions and even world history? How does the glory of God connect and apply to each of these events and millions of others?

Now, I’m not saying that the human brain is the type of thing that can accurately assess the meaning of every event that occurs within a life. That would be arrogant to say, and certainly in my own case is simply impossible. But what I am saying is there can be a general understanding that all the events and circumstances of my life have one ultimate meaning – to bring glory to God. I don’t even have to understand how it happens, since I am not the one responsibly for making it happen. He is. But I can have a general understanding of it. This general understanding is hugely important. Why? Because it causes me to relax in his grace.

Think of that old book futility and what it says:

Ecclesiastes 1:14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

All of my activity is vanity. All of my busy-ness is vanity. Even the blood which pumps faithfully through my veins is vanity! Where can meaning truly be found? What stable rock can the hermeneutics of real life be anchored into, so that the turmoil that is human existence may not assail?

I would suggest when we look into what things “mean,” we look long and lovingly at this Anchor.