Friday, April 16, 2010

Growing in Understanding

You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 4:2

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
John 14:26

The first time I ever encountered Mark Twain’s literary classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I was nine years old. It was summertime, and my parents had adopted some kind of cultural enrichment policy in which we’d all gather ‘round while Dad read a chapter aloud each evening. It was fantastic, laughing with my family and adventuring with the boy Huck and his acquaintance Jim down the Mississippi River on a raft in my mind.

In high school, I was reintroduced to the book. This time it wasn’t the travelogue or the comedy that intrigued me. At the age of 14 or 15, the concepts of slavery, injustice and racism were hitting me for the first time. Where I found joy in my childhood hearing of Huckleberry Finn, as an adolescent, the book stirred up far more complex feelings in me. I found myself thinking angrily about prejudice and intolerance and how messed up the world can become.

As a college English major, I studied Huckleberry Finn once again in a semester-long seminar on Mark Twain. Because so many of Twain’s writings were set on and around the Mighty Mississippi, we spent a lot of time discussing the symbolism of the river itself. Twain used the river, time and again, as a metaphor for freedom—freedom from actual slavery, yes, but also freedom from all that binds and stifles human beings from reaching their full potential. Or something like that.

The versions of Huckleberry Finn I read in 1972 and 1977 and 1985 did not differ in substance from what Twain originally penned in 1884. You could say that nothing was added to it or taken away, and yet each time I approached the book, it meant something different to me. Of course, it wasn’t the content that changed over time, but my own development. My concrete thinking, my abstract reasoning, my empathy, my experiences, my values. . . so much about me changed from the time I was 9 until the time I was 21, just like so much about me has changed from the time I was 21 until now.

Deuteronomy 4:2 reminds us that God’s Word is not to be altered. Specifically, in this verse, The Commandments are not to be changed up. But does that mean how we understand God’s intentions for us remains static? Absolutely not!

Every time we approach God’s Word, we need to put our whole (current) selves into comprehending what it means. How we understand a Bible text today should probably be different from how we understood it when we were in elementary school. How we understand God’s Word today should be informed by God’s Holy Spirit living within us, teaching us, as John 14:26 promises.


  1. Wow. That was incredible. May i keep this and share it? I will surely give u the credit. You speak words in my heart i could not articulate myself. Thank you.

  2. I'm so glad that the words God inspires me to type are the words you need to receive. It's amazing to me. Yes--please share this as you're led.

    BTW--do I know you? Your profile is blocked, so I'm not sure if you're one of several Katie's I already know, or if you're a new Katie in my life.

  3. Chris, I enjoyed reading your reflections.