Observe the two cards to the left. List all the observations you can think of in 1 minute. What do they have in common? What differences do they have?…Did you do it? Or did you just keep reading this post? If you are like most, you quickly glanced at the cards, but then moved on to continue reading. But go back and observe again, what differences and commonalities do you find in the cards? Do you see the difference in color? How about the different numbers in the top corners? You probably noticed the similar writing at the bottom of the card, and you may have even noticed the background picture was different. But did you observe long enough to see the difference in arch design in the cards? Or did you notice the way the 25s are circled, but the 40s have triangular shapes around them? If you did not observe all of these similarities or differences, why not? Is it because of time, energy, or effort? Let me ask the question this way…Why is observation so hard?
I have been mulling over that question recently, mostly because of a class I am currently taking on hermeneutics. Why does observation seem so difficult? And why does it seem so fruitless at times? But even more than that, I am curious as to the contributing factors of poor observation in our culture, and specifically in the Bible study culture of the church. Why are people not observing the text of their Bibles very well? Here are a few reasons why observation is hard, why it is neglected in our culture, and some results of the lack of observation in Bible study.
Observation is hard for numerous reasons. The primary reason observation is hard is that it takes time and effort (two things our culture devalues, but more on that later). Much time is required to sit down quietly with God’s Word before you and just soak in the text in order to observe well. The effort it requires does not come naturally for most. Secondly, observation is difficult because there are many aspects to it that require deeper thought and reflection. It is rare to really think through what parts of speech are being used and how they are being used when you just read a book. But when you sit down to observe God’s Word you must make more observations than merely what big point is. Observations come not in just looking at the forest, but by examining each tree. So observation is difficult because of the time and effort it requires along with the deeper analysis than we routinely make in our lives.
All of the aforementioned points really are also part of the reason it is neglected in our culture. However, I think the two largest contributing factors of poor observation in Bible study is the “me-centeredness” and instant gratification of our culture. Everything in today’s world is about “me”. If you look at all the marketing strategies for large companies and food chains you hear things like this: “Have it your way”, “I’m loving it”, “the customer is always right”, and the list goes on. But possibly more detrimental to good observation is our culture’s infatuation with having things and having them now. While observation takes time, people want results and answers now. If we can get something one of two ways, we will choose the fast way every time. These two issues are why Bible observation is so neglected in our culture.
The worse part is this attitude of “me” and “now” creeps into Bible study. If we can just go to a text and ask , “What does it mean to me?”, then why do we need to observe what is actually there? If we can just go to any text and jump right into application for living, why take all that time on observation? The “me-centeredness” of our culture causes us to miss observing what God is doing in the text and see only ourselves there. And in so doing we often rush through what God has actually said, to what we think God has said to me!