In my last post I argued that, for both Christians and non-Christians, we neither have—nor can have—certainty about the Bible’s claims nor about the validity of its claims. In place of certainty we have interpretation.
Before rushing into a technical discussion about interpretation, however, it is important to situate such a discussion within its practical, real-life context. Why? Because this seemingly dry topic is important—important enough even to get “picky” about what interpretation is and how to do it—for a very practical and personal reason: people matter.
Typically we think of interpretation as focusing on ideas: techniques to help us know things better. Certainly ideas are important and interpretation both requires that we think about ideas and helps us better to understand them.
But ideas are not the point. People are the point.
So this discussion of interpretation was actually borne from my earlier challenge that absolute truth (or Truth) is only meaningful if it is true “for me.” This challenge itself resulted from my claim that love and truth are essential to human existence, where I noted that the greatest truth-for-me is to be deeply beloved of one whom I deeply love.
Thus where the desire to love and be loved is a central human aspiration, the pursuit of truth is integral to meaningful, human existence. We may take this a step further and note that ours is not only a desire to be loved, but to be loved in and as who we are. In other words, it is a desire not to be treated as an object but known profoundly—and being so known, to be cherished—as the self that we are.
Reframed, we desire to be known truly and loved profoundly by one / those whom we likewise know genuinely and love deeply.
So truth is integral to love in several ways. First, I want the knowledge that others have about me to be true, so that their love is really for me: they don’t idolize me for isolated qualities nor value me mistakenly (as someone or something that I am not). Rather they know my authentic self, and in so knowing me they love me.
Second, in order for another to know me truly I must know and understand myself—as Socrates would say, I must know who I truly am.
Third, I likewise want to know my beloved truly. So my beloved’s identity (as someone who claims to respect, be loyal to, and love me) must not be based on incomplete or false information (as an unconfessed affair, or a hidden need to marry in order to retain citizenship, etc.)
Thus my interest in interpretation is neither to dethrone notions of absolute t/Truth nor merely to supplant one view with another. Rather, interpretation (of texts, experiences, situations, etc.) is a skill that matters because it allows us to gain some of our most meaningful connection to ourselves, to other people, and to evaluate how and how authentically they connect with us.
My point, then, is that truth remains connected with love, through and through. And just as truth-seeking and truth-finding are integral to loving and being loved, so accurately assessing truth claims and truth values by way of interpretation is among the most meaningful of tasks.
In subsequent posts I reframe interpretation. It is not an all-or-nothing hedge against relativism but is a skill that all possess and that can be improved with practice and knowledge.
In the end, interpretation helps keep us honest: it insists that we remain amongst the ambiguities and tensions inherent to our finite situation. But it also gives gifts: we can have strong confidence in knowing (and so understanding) some things, even in knowing the that we love and, perhaps, are loved.