Scripture is clear. We just have to read it. Ezra read the book of the law to the Hebrew exiles and the people wept (Neh. 8). So we, too, should listen and respond to the reading of Scripture. But—it is a little more complicated than that. The reading by Ezra was for those “who could understand what they heard” (Neh. 8:2) and Levites were offering interpretive help. Understanding Scripture is not always easy.
For us, factor in that Scripture was originally written mostly in Hebrew and Greek, and reflects an ancient culture. The work of understanding Scripture should compel us to modesty. We can be confident in God and his promises, but we should be less confident in how well we understand some of the details.
People, too, can be easy to understand. What you see is what you get. Watch and listen and you can know someone accurately—maybe not fully, but accurately. But (here, too)—it is a little more complicated than that. There have been a few times when I wanted to ask my wife for her social security number because, though I recognized the physical person, she was acting in ways I never expected. There is always more to learn about someone, and sometimes what we learn changes our entire system of understanding.
A seventy-year-old woman who seemed unaffected by life was actually afraid to say a word because she grew up in foster homes and tried to disappear as a way to not be moved from one home to another.
A pastoral intern was on the cusp of being fired because of gross self-centeredness. But interpretations changed when he was identified as mildly autistic.
Parents can sometimes be too confident in their understanding of a child. They assume they know their child and discipline him or her according to that perspective, until they are given an insight from a friend or teacher that helps them see the child more accurately.
One embezzler is not the same as another. One porn user can have completely different reasons than another.
Skillful counselors are aware of these complexities—both of Scripture and people. If you could listen in you would overhear counselors say “Tell me more” as they incorporate converging themes that make up a person’s story. You would notice that allusions to specific biblical texts include allusions to the larger flow of a biblical author’s thought. We want to go through complexity rather than around it. We want people to feel truly known and we want to understand Scripture’s authorial intent and its mission to reveal Jesus. Both tasks require humility.