Originally published March 22, 2017:
Arriving at the conference, I enjoyed the anticipation. The year before, I’d met Shane (not his real name). Shane and I shared an interest in ex-gay ministry as well as ministry to people living with AIDS, but we also both enjoyed writing. During the year leading up to this conference, he initiated a lively correspondence, often sending me samples of the book he had started writing about how God prepared Christians for marriage. Of course, he’d won my heart. My attendant/roommate and I entered our dorm room to find a tiny scroll, artfully tied with a green ribbon, placed on each of our pillows. She unrolled mine for me, revealing “A Scripture Promise For The Week.”
“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
19 See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland. ~~Isaiah 43:18-19 (NIV)
I knew (intellectually) that I should resist the urge to interpret the “Scripture Promise” as assurance that my long history of romantic disappointment had ended, but Shane did things that week (and afterward) to further kindle my hopes. I’ll spare you the messy details of how my history with Shane played out, and say only that the “new thing” in verse 19 had absolutely nothing to do with my romantic desires.
That memory comes to mind as I think about the narcissism in contemporary evangelical circles. Interestingly, when I read Isaiah 43 during my Quiet Time all these years later, I keep its historical context, as well as its prophetic intent in mind. Isaiah prophesied about two events: the Jews’ release from the Babylonian Captivity and (ultimately) the Messianic kingdom. Back in that dorm room during the conference, I turned that broad promise to Israel and the Church about God’s glorious plan for His collective people into a horoscope-like prediction tailored to my selfish aspirations.
Most present-day evangelicals play similar games with God’s Word, I’m sorry to say. To a very large extent, pastors, teachers and Christian books encourage us to privatize God’s Word into personal promises that spin far away from God’s main point. Yes, He guides us through Scripture’s principles–even in terms of selecting a spouse–but He most certainly doesn’t want us wrenching fragments out of context as if the Bible lends itself to some sort of baptized divination.
As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament these past few years, the Holy Spirit has shown me that I must read it at face value rather than digging around for personal intimations. I may learn from His dealings with Israel, particularly as I see my rebellion as a mirror image of theirs. I may see His call to holiness and apply it. But when I make His promises to them for His kingdom into allegories about my personal fulfillment, I err. And I forget that Scripture revolves around Him!