This is me in the Indian Ocean in 2004. It was “winter” in South Africa, so it wasn’t odd that there were no locals at the beach. We Canadians, however, found it to be quite delightful weather for an evening dip.
We noticed the posted signs that said, “No shark nets”. We hadn’t known that people could use nets to catch sharks and we weren’t sure why that was prohibited, but there were a few guys fishing with regular old rods and reels off some rocks nearby. Obviously they were obeying the rules.
After quite some time of progressively venturing further and further into the waves despite being fully clothed, our host finally told us what the signs actually meant: the nets that are used during peak seasons to keep the sharks away from the swimming area are currently not installed.
Oh. So our lives were in drastic peril the whole time we were frolicking in the sea. Thanks.
Once I understood those three simple words to be a warning, I felt very silly for previously assuming they were a bizarre instruction. What a difference a little perspective makes. Plus the wise (if somewhat delinquent) advice of someone who knows what’s what.
Being a person who often feels things in extremes and sometimes jumps to conclusions, I need to be careful about how I read the Bible. It would be very easy for me to get my back up over verses that seem to be dogmatic, exclusive directives that don’t have any relevance in today’s culture.
One such passage that had me chuckling recently is Deuteronomy 25:11-12. It says “If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. Show her no pity.” (NIV)
What the what?!?! At first blush (and yes, we should all be blushing), that is a crazy rule! Why should the wife be punished in this situation? She’s not the bad guy here! And that is a ridiculously severe punishment for someone who is obviously just trying to be helpful.
I admit I don’t fully get it. But… “No shark nets”. Maybe there’s a broader context here that has more to do with letting the men duke it out without any emasculating interference. Maybe the severity of such an example is meant to draw our focus not so much to the image of an outraged amputee, but to the sacredness of marital purity and privacy.
And maybe I should leave this particular debate to the theological experts. I am no such expert. But suffice it to say, I need to be mindful of the possibility of more than one perspective even in words that seem so blatantly obvious.
I will leave you with another example that is much more widely known (and misused). Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (NIV) Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a preacher, a Sunday school teacher, a Bible study leader or even a parent use this verse to teach you that God will give you the things you desire if you just love Him enough?
Whoa! (And woe!) Let’s apply the “No shark nets” principle here and look at what else this verse could be saying (and, I believe, is saying based on a little tidbit called the rest of the whole Bible). If you love the Lord, and seek to honour Him by delighting in His Word and His presence and His love, He will put desires in your heart that are in line with His will.
‘He will give you healthy and worthy desires’; not ‘He will give you everything you desire’. See the difference?
And with that, I challenge you to go grab your Bible and see what other little pieces you may have misconstrued over the years.