A tree sits in the middle of the open prairie, wide and tall, with its limbs full of leaves, bats, birds, and fruit. Four artists take up positions at North, South, East, and West. The easels are up, the canvas is prepared, the paints are mixed, and the sun is high. The light is perfect: they begin to paint.
The northern-seated artist sees limbs vacant of everything but leaves, and he paints them as he sees them. They appear to glow from somewhere within. The artist concentrates on this beauty, and the sky and the prairie all but disappear in his picture.
The southern-seated artist sees the damage caused by heat-dead limbs, leaves tinged brown, dry and brittle. A weary robin flies back to her nest, feeding her newly hatched chicks, and the artist is moved by her endurance, her continual searching and returning, her need to fill their beaks. He paints, teary-eyed, in wonder.
The eastern artist comes up close to the trunk. He touches it, and is stung by a splinter. Picking it out, he winces and sees blood. He sits on the rocks beneath the trunk, and sketches it, its rough curves and lines, the power in the hard bark. In the shade under the tree, he hears nothing but wind and the song of birds above him. He is cut, and he is at peace. Leaning against the tree with his eyes closed, he drifts off to sleep. When he wakes, he resumes his work. His canvas sits heavy with paint.
The painter to the west pulls his easel back away from the tree. He frames his painting differently than the others, including the vast prairie and the deep sky. The sun shines through the limbs, and the shadows fill the ground. The painter sees the effect of the tree, the coolness of its shadows, its comfort and its shade.
The Creator sits enthroned on high and observes the painting going on below. Two of the completed works are rendered realistically, two are abstract. They are all, He thinks, very good.
Biblical interpretation is an art more than a science. When we read the bible today, we are reading a book written in another time, another world. The idioms are often lost on us, the layers of meaning left untouched.
For example, the phrase, “a camel through the eye of a needle” has a much deeper meaning than the obvious weird mental picture it conveys. In biblical times, the needle was the area around a city gate-a narrow place that was quite difficult for pack animals like camels to navigate. In order to pass through the needle, a camel had to kneel, and then his burdens had to be removed. What a beautiful picture of trusting in Christ: we must come humbly, and lay our burdens down. For the wealthy, this is often an insurmountable obstacle.
The customs and social practices of biblical times are not always understood by believers today, and because of this, sometimes we lose sight of the deeper meaning of a biblical truth. Often, the meaning of a passage is difficult to understand-it can seem as if there could be several different interpretations. And, perhaps there are. Sometimes, when we wonder if a passage or verse means “this” or “that“, it just might mean “both“.