Musings: Context

I quit.

For some of you, these words may sadden you. For others, you are wondering what’s wrong, what happened? They elicit a feeling of confusion or curiosity. For others still, you may even be thinking, “Thank God.” The statement itself seems to have some assumptions built into it. For most of us these words are related to our jobs or some other aspect of the work we do. The truth is you could quit a lot of things. We temporarily, sometimes permanently, quit things for the Lenten season. We might quit certain behaviors, dietary habits, ideas, any number of things. To say, “I quit”, can refer to many things.

In this case, it was nothing more than a thought exercise, something I cooked up to illustrate the idea that context is necessary when we read, especially the bible. Without context, without an understanding of the history, circumstances, languages, cultures, and times the bible was written in and under, it is easy for us to read it in our time and place and assume the writers mean what we understand and the readers who have always read it understand it as we understand it.

Take for instance, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” I have heard this preached, quoted, and taught, usually with the idea that salvation is a matter of only having to believe in the right things. The problem is context. You are taking a sentence out of the middle of a paragraph. The first part of the paragraph talks about the kind of people we were before God led us to change our lives and those of who are in Christ Jesus—that is, walking in the Way of Jesus—have been set on the proper path of life and living. The last part says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In other words, the expectation is now that we have been shown the right way, right understanding of how to live to honor God through the life of Jesus, we act on what we believe about the Way of Jesus by emulating the Way of Jesus—we believe in it, so we do the good works we were made to do as those who God prepared to do so.

But context extends into every other aspect of life as well: how we make judgements about people or situations without knowing the whole story; how we approach family life; how we choose to engage with most everything in the world around us. So, slow down. Take a moment. Be thorough in engaging with people and situations. Try to see or imagine the ways in which you could be taking people and circumstances out of context and making divisive or damaging assumptions. Most of all, open yourself to the Spirit of God to take a Jesus eye view of things, and try to see the world with greater vision.