Personal Bias and Reading the Text

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When I open a Bible, I approach that moment with a confidence that perhaps is lacking in other areas of my life. I would characterize myself as introverted, independent, and insecure. I bring that baggage to the Bible when I read it, and when I lay open the pages, I find that God expects me to confront myself. Such wrestling prompts my approach to understanding the text; in part, my expectations drive my interaction with the Word. Biblical hermeneutics focuses upon how a person comprehends inspired text, and naming our own personal biases sets the stage for our future methodologies. Through critical examination of my natural inclinations, I have discovered that God loves community, wants us to rely upon Him, and desires to give us wisdom. These realizations are new biases that now influence my biblical interpretation.

God in the Introvert. I feel awkward when I speak to others, which causes trepidation in connecting with people. I have done so—despite some deeply engrained and merited fears—and I have found that people are indeed difficult to comprehend. If it were not for God, I think I would like to be the “crazy lady on the mountain with 31 cats.” I am sometimes frustrated when I read the Bible and find that the Lord seems so stinking interested in the establishment of community (not only between people but between people and Himself). Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, but the second greatest commandment was similar, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). If I do not know my neighbors, then I surely do not love them. I take Jesus at face value on His assertion. If I am to understand the Bible, then I must assume that community is foundational. The struggle to overcome the love of solitude is visceral for me, but if I want to understand God, I have to do so with/for/through my community.

God in the Independent. If I want something done correctly, I do it myself. I lived by that declaration up until I was about 41 years old (okay, maybe I still feel that way sometimes). Back then, my husband and I had a thriving business with large contracts. Independence had worked… up until the recession. Our business was tied to the construction industry, and our home was in one of the hardest hit geographical areas. We lost our possessions—the big home, the small home, the boat, the three vehicles, the credit. We felt compelled to move into a 16-foot tent trailer with our nine-year-old son for about a year and a half. We lost our “independence,” and our family generously supported us whenever we realized that we didn’t have enough change in the sofa to buy groceries. During a time of turmoil, independence did nothing for me, but the lessons in humility and charity were etched into my soul. In fact, last year I found myself teaching a group of high-school seniors an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson entitled “Self-Reliance.” To my own surprise, I argued vehemently against it. As we read it together, I kept verbally asking them (and perhaps myself)—”Would God agree with Emerson?” No, God wants us reliant upon Him and each other as well. Self-reliance can never satisfy.

God in the Insecure. Perhaps I first went to college because I am insecure, and I thought a good education would alleviate the pain of feeling like an idiot in the world. Incidentally, if I were allowed to indulge my introverted side, I suppose no one would know me well enough to judge me that harshly! Despite having the degrees, I still cannot claim that I have lost my insecurity. I can, however, say that God gives me an unexpected confidence through Himself. I hear myself speaking about Him, and the authority and the assurance that I feel bewilders me because it is so uncharacteristic of how I generally feel. It is as if God takes a fool and makes her wise for a few glorious moments. It is a sweet gift that always drives me to my knees in deep gratitude and praise for the One who has compassion upon His creatures and their short-comings. God gives wisdom, and there is no substitute for what He offers.

I think if you have read this far, you might be willing to ask yourself the same question by which I began writing this post. What are your biases when you read the text? How are your biases challenged or affirmed as you read?

4 thoughts on “Personal Bias and Reading the Text

  1. Thanks for sharing some bits about your personality and life. As I read scripture more and more, I am trying to approach the text without social or political biases and let the text inform my biases rather than my biases altering the text. Easier said than done, of course.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I think you’re offering a good approach…letting the Word do the work. I remember the lectures in anthropology where I first came to terms with the idea that bias was something we all have and can never erase. The best we can do is to confront our biases by letting God expose them and then mold them. Not all bias is bad, despite the fact that the word gets bad press time. For example, I’m conservative, but I’m not terribly interested in discarding that bias…rather I want to recognize it and hold it up to scripture for review. God wants us biased for holiness, and anything that doesn’t draw us closer to His holiness is a bias worth ditching. Sometimes I find that my values are not lined up as well as they should be, and that smarts a bit, but it’s a process.

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  2. Emerson sounds so “right,” but is so wrong on many levels. He is very seductive – makes him challenging to teach. (Howdy!)

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    1. Indeed…Emerson sounds wonderful, and the kids were really trying their best to nod along and give praise to him as they read (thinking that’s what I wanted!).

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