I confess that I sometimes read between the lines more than I should when I study scripture. But at least part of the reason I do this is because I’m searching for more information about who and what God is. While the Bible does give us some very direct statements about that, I think His less-visible presence in scripture deserves as much attention. For instance, if someone tells me about a woman named Jane Doe who is very honest, I might have a good feeling about her based on that. If I read that Jane turned in a stolen purse with hundreds of dollars in it, I might believe in her honesty with greater conviction. Finally, personal interaction and experience with her might fully convince me of her honesty. Today I’m focusing on that middle step.
A couple of weeks ago the pastor at my church gave a sermon based on a passage in Acts 16. It was interesting (as usual) and she went a direction with it that I never would have considered, but a couple of verses stood out to me for different reasons. Acts 16:16-18 reads:
- 16As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servantse of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
The first thing that strikes me is that Luke (the author of Acts) doesn’t say anything about this “spirit of divination” being false. And then I wonder why Paul would be bothered by her. This girl was actually acknowledging God’s ultimate power. The word “servants” does stand out to me. When I refer to the reference at the bottom of the page in my Bible, it says “Greek bondservants.” The version used at church actually uses the word “slaves.” It makes sense to me that Paul would be offended by this usage, since his message is one of freedom and liberation from sin and death. The word “slave” would be a misrepresentation.
But then I wondered if Paul was upset for a different reason. He traveled performing miracles which benefited people. I’m not aware of the disciples performing any other miracles simply because they were “annoyed” or that didn’t have some humanitarian merit. So perhaps, even though this girl just might have converted people who were not otherwise open to the message of Jesus, Paul was taking a burden from her, relieving her suffering. I can’t imagine knowing things that God was going to bring about. I think that could be very painful knowledge to carry. If this theory has any truth at all, I think it speaks to the idea that God “cares” about us on an individual level. He didn’t use this girl as a means to an end.
There are a couple of other ways I could go with this; I’m just working my way through some different implications. Honestly, the first one rings truer to me. Perhaps both are entirely off-base. My point is that we can glean a lot from the Bible about the nature of God. If we take the time and make the effort to really consider scripture and weigh our ideas against other passages as we read, maybe we can come away with a kernel of truth, or at the very least, come away from our studies and devotions with renewed interest and enthusiasm.