Gerrit Dou's Portrait of an old woman reading.Just in time for the New Year Christian bloggers (see Endnotes) are encouraging fellow believers to read through the Bible in 2013 and are suggesting various reading plans. Over the years I’ve found that I’m not the reading plan type; I just like to pick a book or books from the Bible and read through them, sometimes in a day and sometimes over a longer span of time. Maybe you are a free-spirited reader like me or maybe you are a system person like my husband, but however you decide to read your Bible, I join fellow bloggers in encouraging you to do so.

I do want to warn you though, that in order to get the most out of your reading there has to be more than simply verbalizing words, comprehending the surface meaning of passages, and recognizing broader themes. I’m not talking about buying dictionaries or commentaries to help you understand context, cultural background or word etymology – all of which are important. I mean that, in order to really really really understand Scripture, something apart from your reading and research skills has to happen. To explain what I mean I turn to Plato and Jonathan Edwards.

Plato

Disclaimer: I am not a philosopher and this blog will prove it, but I offer you my overly simplistic version of a portion of Plato’s Metaphor of the Sun in Book VI of The Republic, pp. 95-105, in which he uses the process of seeing as a metaphor to explain the soul’s perception of truth.

My Version of Plato’s Metaphor of the Sun

Hearing occurs when the ear responds to sound; taste when taste buds respond to food; and feeling when skin receptors respond to texture. The only sense organ that requires a third ingredient is the eye. The eye needs light to see what is there – it needs the sun. Moreover, the sun is necessary for vision, and it is also an object of vision – the sun can be seen.

And, just as the eyes require light produced from the sun to see, so the soul requires the thing that is emitted from “The Good” (or the idea of the good) to understand what is true and to reason wisely. It’s like this: In twilight, when light is mixed with darkness, even the healthy eyes with 20/20 vision miss the sharpness and details of objects in view, but in the full daylight, the same eyes see the object clearly – for what it really is.

Likewise, the soul,

When it is firmly fixed on the domain where truth and reality shines resplendent it apprehends and knows them and appears to possess reason; but when it inclines to that region which is mingled with darkness, the world of becoming and passing away, … its edge is blunted, and it shifts its opinions hither and thither, and again [like the eyes that seems to be missing vision] seems if it [the soul] lacked reason” (Plato’s words; bracketed sections are mine.)

Just as the sun via light gives the power to see an object and even the power to see the sun itself, “The Good” via something (I don’t know what) gives us the power to understand truth as well as the power to comprehend “The Good” itself.

Plato says more, but I will spare you my murder of it. My point is Plato, who in this metaphor seems to confuse “The Good” for God who is of course The Source of goodness, realizes that something outside of himself is needed to understand reality (truth). In other words Plato knows that in order to understand truth The Good must radiate something that permits truth to be conveyed to the human soul.

Jonathan Edwards

In his sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light, …, Jonathan Edwards, also using an analogy of divine light, takes up where Plato left off (or more accurately where I left Plato) and explains (1) what this divine light is and (2) where it comes from.

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:15-17 ESV).

Using Jesus’ words to Peter  (specifically verse 17) as a springboard, Edwards makes the following points:

God is the Author of all knowledge.

  • People are the means God uses to impart moral, business, and skill-based knowledge.
  • God alone imparts spiritual knowledge.

The light that brings spiritual knowledge is NOT …

  • an impression on the imagination made by some beautiful or glorious thing outside the body.
  • a new revelation apart from Scripture.
  • insight or emotional affect that comes from human empathy with Jesus’ sufferings.
  • an emotional affect that comes from romanticized or eloquent descriptions of blessedness.

The Divine Light is …

  • a real heart sense of the exceedingly unique majestic glory of God and the gospel.
  • a saving conviction that God’s word is true – what God says is real.

The Divine Light is given by God:

  • The mind is active in this process of understanding but not the cause of it. (Like Plato, Edwards explains that just as, without natural light, the eyes cannot see; so, without divine light, the mind cannot understand.)
  • The written word of God is involved in the sense that the truth of God’s word is what the divine light reveals. (The written word itself does not save. Edwards explains: “The word of God is only made use of to convey to the mind the subject matter of this saving instruction …”)
  • God gives the divine light immediately apart from anything else; there are no other means or second causes.

What arises from this Divine Light?

Edwards’ answer: A “true and saving belief” of what the Scripture teaches.

Praying that as you read God’s word in 2013, God will shine his divine light in you so that you will see God’s glory and believe. 

Endnotes:

The Gospel Coalition: The Bible Eater: A Plan for Feeing on Christ in 2013.

Justin Taylor: Reading the Bible in 2013

I also refer you to my previous blog, “Using Jesus to Unlock the Old Testament.”