Children are often encouraged to read as an avenue to travel to distant lands through their imagination. This is a useful way of describing to a child the power of imagination and the magic of reading. We can indeed “travel” through a skillfully-woven tale.
“Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere.”
– Mary Schmich
In another sense, reading provides us the opportunity to journey to the land of the author’s perspective. Traveling physically to a foreign land may stretch us by exposing us to customs, cultures, and viewpoints differing from our own. Exposure to the ideas and perspectives of an author stretches us and provides one of the great values of reading.
This opportunity for growth may be lost through a common modern approach to interpreting a text. When I impose my feelings and perception on the text, shaping its meaning according to my personal views, I ignore authorial intent and replace it with my personal impression.
By doing this, I come away from the text with only my perception of that text and forfeit the benefit of my journey. I finish reading more firmly entrenched in a sense of my own superior rightness, remaining unchanged. This is particularly dangerous when applied to Scripture.
This is not to say I am obligated to adjust my thinking to full agreement or even some agreement with every writer (A rather ridiculous proposition after all). In fact, I would propose that, with the exception of the Bible, such required adjustment would cause us to lose the sharpening benefit of reading. Engaging differing views may, in fact, strengthen those we already hold. It may improve our defense of them. It may reveal the weakness of the author’s argument.
“A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.”
– Abraham Lincoln
In agreement or disagreement, however, we must give authors the privilege of speaking for themselves. We must make every effort to understand the writing as the author originally intended it, uncolored by our unique perceptions or personal persuasions. Otherwise, we return from a voyage of discovery as resolutely unchanged as when we embarked.