Waldo is not Here

As a musician, one of my gifts is the ability to pick out the subtleties in music. It could be a particularly festive drum fill, a modulation change in the organ, or a deceptive polyrhythm. I have high standards in music if for no other reason than I appreciate the time musicians put into these fun little extras.

It's like the bonus materials disc of your favorite film (huh, talking about DVD's makes me feel old). And my wife will often comment when we listen to music together that she would have never noticed some of the things I point out. Now as much as I hope that she comes to appreciate that particular piece more, I would never want her to like it solely for those things. Because good music isn't about bells and whistles, it's about good songwriting. In other words, it's about a well-crafted and well-supported melody.

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Think about it, how silly would a record be that focused completely on the eccentricities of musical compositions? At best, it would be a collection of sound effects, or worse, an Eminem album.

Music, like literature, takes us on a journey—a narrative, if you will. And while there should naturally be supporting characters, no one would mistake them for the protagonist. The story is not about them since they are only there to advance plot of the main character. So it's only natural to subordinate their importance, right? I mean, you wouldn't write a three-point sermon about the significance of the number of tonnage of gold it took to build Solomon’s temple, would you?

As much as some Christians can be over-literal in their interpretations of Scripture, there's also a frequent tendency to ascribe equal significance to every jot and tittle as well. It's the quest for 'application,' and it comes from a poor reading of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."

In other words, even the tiniest detail should have some extractable truths for today's Christian life, right? This is what happens when you go looking for Waldo in A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. If you try hard enough, you can make the Bible say anything you want it to, and you can see anything you want to see—even if it’s not really there.

The Bible has plenty of truths already. Every story, every song, every letter was written with a purpose. And while nothing in it should be discarded, some parts serve a structural function, not a didactic one. Honestly, outside of the broader story arc, what principles can we get from the Judah and Tamar narrative? That if you withhold your son from your daughter-in-law, she'll trick you into sleeping with you?

There's a reason there aren't many sermons on Genesis 38 alone and it's a good one. When taught correctly (i.e. by passage, not word or phrase), the Bible naturally lends itself to application in our lives. But if we insist on applying truths from the ark’s measurements; well, that's like saying "(Don’t Fear) The Reaper" needs more cowbell.

A deeper read on the topic can be found here.