The Bible as … Part 1: Vision
In his excellent work, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard discusses that transformation happens in our lives as we engage three things: vision, intention, and means. We have a vision for the beauty and attractiveness of living with God, we make it our intention to live that way, and then we embrace the means for actually living that way.
It is tragic that, all too often, we skip right ahead to means. The standard idea that prevails goes like this: “just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” However, when we look simply at the behaviors without an accompanying vision and intention, we are often left with a lifeless response that is unable to move through the ups and downs of life.
Simply trying to change behavior never works over the long term. An old friend of mine used to always say, “we do what makes sense to us.” Clearly, what makes sense to us is that for which we have a vision. If I have embraced a vision for something, it makes sense to me … not only cognitively but more importantly at the heart level. Our behavior is always the result of a belief that we have embraced.
The tragedy of simply focusing on behavior is that it can affect the way we interact with the text of Scripture. Viewing the Bible as a guidebook or manual is a common idea that belies a focus on behavior and action. In 2 Timothy 3:17, we are challenged that the Scriptures … “equip for every good work.” But how exactly does the Bible do that? Is transformation simply an issue of changing behaviors or changing vision? If Willard is correct and I believe He is, then perhaps we might best view the Bible as other than a behavioral guidebook or manual for living.
While the Bible as behavioral guidebook has been a dominating view for many years, I want to suggest several other metaphors which might be more helpful and accurate in our approach to the sacred text. (*)
First, we need to see the Bible as vision … a vision for what it is like to live in a relationship with God. The intention is to inspire and motivate us past what we would perhaps believe is possible. For example, the Sermon on the Mount is a vision that Jesus sets forth for what it looks like to live as a part of the kingdom of God. Ideas like “turning the other cheek” and “going the extra mile” and “not worrying” are vision. They challenge us to desire such a beautiful life. First and foremost, the idea isn’t to try to do these things but to want to live this way. Only when we begin with vision can we reliably be led to intention and then means.
When we begin to think about the Bible as vision, we see that the Bible oozes vision. Consider the Psalms. Over and over, lofty and yet real vision is presented through the beautiful use of metaphor and poetry. … consider the following:
Psalm 23:1, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Psalm 42:1, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”
Psalm 63:3, “your steadfast love is better than life.”
These are fundamentally texts which draw our hearts into envisioning what our lives could be like in relationship with God. They are not primarily texts meant to describe God, although they do that, but texts designed to inspire vision … to lead us to desire deep, crazy, glorious things.
Challenge: take some time in the coming days (or, even a few minutes right now) to read through a psalm and interact with it as vision. What deep desires does the psalm draw out of you?
In coming blog posts, we’ll look at: The Bible as Mirror, The Bible as Guardrail, and The Bible as Love Letter.
*Please note that the suggested metaphors are not intended to take away from the need for accurate, well-informed study of the sacred text as literature: narrative, poetry, prophecy, epistle, etc. Instead, the suggested metaphors are intended to speak to the heart level of how we interact with the text, both in terms of the framework we bring to interpretation and the ways in which we apply the truth we come to understand.