Wednesday Word: Love
A hermeneutic of love.
Hermeneutics is, basically, defined as “a general theory of how people interpret stuff.” This can apply to all kinds of things. For instance, if you are a chef, you may apply a hermeneutic of cooking to a travel log of Europe. If you are a historian, you may apply a hermeneutic of history to a novel about colonial America. If you are a referee, you may apply a hermeneutic of officiating to any game you happen to be watching.
Hermeneutics, however, tends to be specifically focused on biblical reading/study; because, honestly, nobody really talks about the hermeneutics of officiating.
I have a friend named Paul whom I've mentioned before. Paul and I have a standing appointment on Mondays to discuss where we are each coming from in our particular biblical interpretations and my sermons. Paul leans more conservative and evangelical than I do, and he really doesn't have any experience with liturgical churches, let alone the Episcopal church, and ever since we met he's been fascinated with my take on scripture. So we get together every Monday and talk and/or study and reflect on scripture. Our first attempt at this was the book of Ruth, and now we're tackling Colossians.
Paul is also a historian, so he tends to come at texts with a hermeneutic of history behind him – what was society like when this was written, who was it addressed to, what was the author trying to get across in that time and place, and the like.
And in our most recent session, he asked me, “What hermeneutic are you using when you read scripture and as you develop your sermon? What is your baseline that you want your people to know?”
In good Episcopal fashion I said, “That depends.”
But after sorting out and pushing to the side all of what depends, I eventually said, “I suppose I operate from a hermeneutic of love.”
That opened up a whole new can of worms. But in essence I said this:
All of scripture is trying to bring humanity and God back into a full and complete relationship. The prophets called us to return to God. God is continually searching for ways to reach us. Scripture shows our struggle to understand God. Jesus showed us what it looks like to live in complete harmony with the will of God. Jesus taught God what it is to be human. And all through the Old and New Testaments, love is at the center.
If we read scripture in a way that belittles, ostracizes, casts off, treats others as less-than, or treats ourselves as more-than or better-than, we are reading scripture incorrectly. And the only way to properly read scripture is with an eye toward the restoration of humanity and God to a full and complete relationship. That is a hermeneutic of love.
How are you reading scripture? More importantly, how are you reading life?