“Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
This quote from a Spanish novelist has some theological validity. Even when we come to the scriptures, we tend to read ourselves into the text in various ways. The manner in which we do this can be telling. Consider these familiar verses from Psalm 23.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 23:5-6 (ESV)
Or the opening to Psalm 30.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Psalm 30:1-3 (ESV)
How do we read these songs of deliverance? If we are not careful, we can read these passages and others like them with a subconscious, “Well, of course….” Of course what? Of course God is going to lift us up over our adversaries because we’re so great? Does he owe us anything? This is lethal and we must guard against it. If God chooses to elevate us, it is only because we have been content to lay low in humility. It is only because he decides that it serves his purposes.
These passages can be a mirror into our heart. Is our heart filled with pride and self-assurance, or is it filled with humility and gratitude? Are we resting in faith or are we striving in anxiety? Do we read the Psalms as promises of here-and-now reward or do we see them as speaking to our eternal destiny? If we are faithful, God is faithful and will elevate us above our adversaries. Not in a fleshly, worldly sense, but we will see Satan and his demons cast into the lake of fire for eternity and they are our true adversaries. Far too many men and women made in the image of God will also follow them, but that is not something we should look forward to or rejoice in.
What we bring to our reading colors what we read. It is unavoidable; no one can read objectively. We all have experiences and biases, sins and hurts that influence how we perceive the words on the page. When we read the Scriptures and other spiritual writers, we must approach them with humility. We must be willing to ask the words to re-form us. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit softens our hearts so the seed of the word may be implanted and bear fruit (Matthew 13).
Scripture will reveal to us who we are as well as who we are to be. We should be attentive to both of these roles as we read. Without seeing both, we miss the distance between the two. There is no surer seed of humility than keeping that gap in mind.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 2:18 (NASB)