As I have sought to better understand Scripture (so I can better live according to the teachings of my faith), I have encountered many startling revelations. Some of them have been easier to accept than others, and some have been very, very difficult to accept. One of the most difficult revelations I’ve had challenged my entire way of looking at politics and society. It was the realization that Scripture does not endorse the world-view of the Western world! Western civilization is built upon the ideal of the individual: “Individuals have God-given rights. God’s Word says He wants people to be free. Therefore, the righteous government is the government that protects the rights and liberties of the individual. All of these ideas came from the Bible, just like our founders said.” For me, all of this was true. I never questioned it — until I started reading the Bible for myself. Once I did that, I started to sense that something was very, very wrong. Either I did not understand Scripture correctly, or everything I believed was wrong! Then I stumbled across a book that forced me to consciously consider something I had always known: that our cultural biases can seriously skew a person’s understanding of other cultures. Once I realized that the Bible is the work of another culture, everything changed. I suddenly realized that I had been reading a foreign work through Western eyes. This can be very dangerous because it usually leads to profound misunderstanding — as in this case. You see, while the Bible does not actually condemn the West’s emphasis on the individual, it definitely doesn’t endorse it. In fact, the Bible endorses a decidedly corporate or communal way of thinking and living. In today’s world, this can sound an awful lot like Socialism, which is an arch enemy of the Western ideal. So, where does this revelation leave me: a person who embraces the Western ideal of the ‘Classic Liberal?’
Well, first, let’s start by understanding that Scripture actually does speak from a corporate or communal perspective. This may be difficult for many Western believers to accept, but it is true. The culture of the ancient world was focused on the group or community, not the individual. When we read ‘you‘ in a passage of Scripture, we tend to think in terms of the second person, singular. In other words, we read Scripture as though it were talking to ‘me, the individual.’ To our way of thinking, this gives Scripture meaning to us individually. It is why we think it still has meaning in our personal lives. Unfortunately, this way of reading Scripture can create serious misunderstandings. It often causes us to miss or ignore the context of a given passage. It can create what appears to us as conflicts, and even contradictions in Scripture. After all, Scripture says “all things work together for good to them that love God,” but how does the death of a child work together for good in the life of that child’s parents? If we read Scripture in the the voice of the second person, singular, this sort of uncomfortable conflict (where we try to force a personal meaning on a passage that is not intended) is created more often than believers realize. It also creates the appearance of contradiction in Scripture, which then gives cause for the non-believers to scoff at our faith. But what if we read Scripture in the voice of the second person, plural? How would that change things?
If we read Scripture in the voice of the second person, plural, then our passage, “all things work together for good to them that love God,” suddenly takes on a new meaning. Now, while the passage may not comfort the grieving parents, it may explain how the death of their child could lead to good for those who believe in God. Maybe the child’s death and the way his or her family responds to their loss will soften the heart of a non-believer, which then causes that person to come to and accept God. That grows the Body of Believers, which is called a ‘good’ in Scripture. This way of reading Scripture can even explain how the death of thousands of martyrs, something that certainly was not ‘good’ for them as individuals, can be a ‘good’ for believers as a whole. By going to their deaths praising God, eventually, the collective heart of the Roman Empire was softened which — in time — lead to the creation of the Western world. The Western world created the most free and prosperous period in human history, which is definitely a ‘good’ for believers because the Western world was created by believers. What better witness to the world could there be than that?
When we start to read Scripture in this voice — the second person, plural — Scripture suddenly makes a great deal more sense. Not only does it eliminate the conflicts and contradictions that open Scripture up to ridicule, but it still applies to us (just not always in the personal way we’d like). Did you notice how I said the death of the early martyrs changed Rome by softening the heart of Rome? Well, to our Western mind, this is not how the world works: Rome is not a person, therefore, Rome cannot have a heart. And yet, his is exactly how the Bible deals with peoples and nations: as a single entity. The best example for a believer is found in the way Scripture refers to believers: as the Body of Christ. In other words, Scripture treats believers corporately: as one person — which is the exact same way it treats Israel, or other nations. Still, if a person clings to this way of looking at things, they will have a very difficult time seeing with Biblical eyes. All they will likely see if the world, which will make it nearly impossible to understand how all things work together for the good of those who believe and trust in God. However, if a person choose to see with Biblical eyes, then they will probably discover that the Bible is correct in everything it says, and the world will make a great deal more sense.
Once I realized that this is all true — that Scripture actually do speak in the second person, plural — I started to question the entire foundation of the Western world. Maybe the ‘Left’ has been right all along; maybe collectivism is the way things should work? I mean, it’s true that many people have pointed to the Book of Acts as ‘proof’ that Christianity actually teaches collectivism (some have even claimed it actually teaches Communism). I have read the Scriptures many times now, and I can certainly see how someone could understand it this way — especially someone from a communal society or with a collectivist mind-set. Consequently, I have been forced to re-consider everything I have ever believed. Had I been wrong about the proper way for man to organize and govern himself? Had those who advocate collectivism been right the whole time? And, if so, did that mean I had been working against God the whole time I was defending the Western ideal? I had to find a way to resolve the internal conflict these questions had created. That meant I had to find the answers to these questions.
Since the only answers that matter to me anymore are those which agree with the will of God, I sought for them in the same place from which they came: God’s Word. Scripture is always faithful to believers, we just have to be patient. It also tells us that, if we seek Him, we will find Him; and if we ask, He will give us wisdom. Well, I found my answers. In fact, I found them in several places. The most notable were in the prophecies of the prophet, Jeremiah, and in the Words of Christ, Himself. What I found actually surprised me. As I understand it, there seems to be a sort of middle ground, or ‘grey’ area in Scripture. God’s Word definitely favors a corporate or communal society, but it doesn’t condemn a society based on the individual. But this wasn’t the part that surprised me. The part that surprised me is that, even though it favors a communal or corporate society, it condemns our modern understanding of the collective! In fact, Jesus not only condemns it, but He does so forcefully. I’ll expand on this thought in my next post.