“We see so much more when we are willing to change our point of view.”
Reading an email, letter or other message is psychologically simple – we know that someone is addressing us and we “hear” the words of the message as though the person were speaking directly to us. But there is an interesting psychological phenomenon that occurs when we read anything written in the “third person.” Whether it is a novel, a story, a news report or even much of the Bible itself, our minds change gear and we look at the story from a different perspective.
Just as ancient Greek plays had a protagonist (the hero) and one or more “antagonists” – those with whom the hero interacts or struggles – third person writing engages the mind in such a way that, without thinking about it, we automatically “identify with the hero.” In reading this type of writing it is not that we see ourselves as the hero so much as we accept the hero’s cause, we see things from his or her perspective and what the hero says to others usually carries our approval – we are thoroughly on the hero’s side.
What does this have to do with Bible reading and study? When we read a biblical story – for example, a description of one of the prophets delivering a message to ancient Israel – it’s easy to identify ourselves with the speaker and agree with his message, but do we identify with those to whom the message was sent? Ultimately, the depth of our understanding of much of the Bible – and our ability to be moved by it – lies in putting ourselves in the place of the original hearers, not the speakers. Does Paul write to the Corinthians? Put yourself in the place of the Corinthians – how does what Paul says apply to you personally? It’s as we think over and meditate on what the message of the Bible says to its recipients that it can have an impact on us.
Naturally, when we read the psalms of David or other prayers and hymns in the Bible we can identify with the speaker and it is often helpful to do so, but in those cases it is not “third person” literature – it is more like when we pray or write to someone. But in the case of biblical stories and narratives we need to remember which side of the events we should picture ourselves on, otherwise we are just reading a story.
It’s the simplest principle to apply, but in most cases we shouldn’t identify with our biblical heroes nearly so much as we should strive to identify with those to whom our heroes spoke.