Jump Start # 2853
Psalms 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Reading between the lines—that’s an expression that is based upon the impression one gets from reading a person’s writings. The author wrote such and such, but “between the lines” he was really writing about something much greater. Movies and music are the same way. A simple catchy tune from the ‘60s turns out to be a protest song against the Vietnam war. Reading between the lines. Here is what is said, but between the lines we learn what was really intended. The author masked the real meaning in a cute story or in metaphors and only those that know, know. And, in search of what is between the lines, often becomes much more important than what an author actually wrote.
Now, all of this brings us to God’s word. Are there things between the lines in the Bible? Does God intend for us to find simple things that have much greater meaning than the obvious? Great questions.
First, in some ways that is what the parables are. They are simplistic stories but they have a much deeper spiritual meaning. The story of the prodigal is not about dysfunctional homes, run-a-ways and the problems of giving young people too much wealth. It’s about God, grace and forgiveness. There isn’t a lot of “between the lines” digging one has to do to see that. The context brings that out. Jesus wasn’t a story teller. He was leading people to God. He was showing His audience what the Kingdom of Heaven was like.
Second, we must be careful with the “reading between the lines” concept. It can become an obsession and we go digging for the hidden and the unknown and miss the obvious. We can be on the hunt for what no one else finds and run through the weeds of speculation and ideas that God never intended. This can be true in the parables where we try to determine what every bird, every rock and every tree means. A person asked me once, what I thought the pigs in the Prodigal story represented. I told him, “pigs.” It’s easy to assign ideas to things that the text never intended.
Third, God’s word, as our passage reminds us today, is designed to be a light. The purpose is to illuminate and show, not conceal. The problem with “the reading between the lines” concept is that not everyone sees those things and not everyone walks away with the same impressions. Art is that way. Go to a major gallery and listen to the experts tell you about the artist’s struggle with the injustices of the day. The picture becomes a major thrust against the political systems of the day. That’s what we are told. I see red lines and green paint and oceans and I don’t see those “between the lines” lessons. I don’t know the artist. I don’t know his story. All I see is a painting. Either I like the colors and the image or I don’t.
God’s message is intended for all. There is a historical context that helps to understand what’s going on, such as the destruction of Jerusalem in Lamentations or the rise of persecution in 2 Peter. Even symbolic language such as Revelation, points us to a central idea. It’s not fuzzy. It’s not ambiguous. There are not multiple possible meanings.
Fourth, God’s book isn’t to be read like other books. Some authors purposely try to trick the reader. Mysteries are written this way. Some do have hidden meanings that are not revealed. God wants to be clear. When the Ethiopian was reading Isaiah he was not sure who the section of Scripture was talking about. The preacher Philip explained to him what was going on and how the passage was describing the Messiah. Clarity, understanding is what the readers of God’s word were after in Nehemiah’s day. It’s hard for a group of people to be of one mind, one heart and one voice, when they do not understand the message the same. We can find ourselves in real danger when we begin to “read between the lines” of God’s word. “God says this, but actually, He meant this.” Before long, the words do not carry much importance.
Now, what’s behind this Jump Start? Trouble brewing at the congregation I worship at? Someone tried to read between the lines of a recent Jump Start and accused me of something? Reading between the lines. It’s none of those things. Actually, this idea came from an interview I listened to about the song, “Puff the magic dragon.” For years, “reading between the lines,” have assumed that this song was about smoking dope. It does mention strings and sealing wax and puffing that dragon. It sure can look like that. The songwriter said it’s nothing more than a song about a little boy and his make believe dragon. That’s it. That got me thinking about the Bible. Reading between the lines in the Bible. No trouble with Jump Starts. No trouble at the congregation. Just an idea about a song that got me thinking about the Bible. That’s it.
God told his chosen to preach the word. They told others, like Timothy, to preach the word. Jesus said you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. God’s word is understandable. It is clear. It is precise. What’s between the lines? Just white space…that’s all.
We need to focus upon what the Bible says rather than what it might say or doesn’t say.