While on my recent trip to the Eastern Sierras in California, I noticed a very interesting thing. I was hiking in one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen—so pretty that it hardly seemed real, more like a painting. My eyes kept looking out at the panorama of charcoal-colored mountains painted with streaks of spring snow, the bright blue sky and multi-textured cloud formations, the contours of hills and streams and pasture lands in every direction. Alternately, I would then zoom in on the fine details of a sage plant growing out of a cypress root, or the multi-colored pebbles at the bottom of a creek, or the intricate grain of the volcanic rocks that stood like statues on the landscape.
In and out, large and small, far away and close-up, big picture, small picture. The parts and the whole. This principle is called the gestalt.
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines this as” something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts.” It is often quoted that the quality or essence of the whole of something is “more than a sum of its parts.” The gestalt is the essence of the whole against the parts that compose it.
The landscape before my eyes had many parts, but when put together, they revealed a profundity that could not be explained through an intellectual analysis of them. This is the beauty of God’s creation. It is spiritually discerned. True beauty confounds the mind.
Being the Bible nut that I am, I of course began searching for application of this experience to my study and perception of Scripture. I concluded quickly that the best exploration of the Bible is one that sees both the big picture of the overarching story and the fine details of scene, character, plot, and genre.
There are many examples I could give, but I’ll offer just a few.
Big picture: King Saul’s army is at war with the Philistines, and the battle has reached an impasse. Zoom in: David picks up 5 smooth stones for his slingshot and tries on armor that is way too big. The story doesn’t need these details, but how much richer it is with the details included. The Spirit of God breathed them into it.
Big picture: Jesus is teaching crowds, feeding thousands miraculously, healing and delivering hundreds from their afflictions. Zoom in: Jesus gets weary and hot and sits by the edge of a well, or he observes a widow putting her penny in the offering box, or he looks for figs on a tree before the time for figs to be ripe.
Big picture: Jesus has been resurrected, and his grave is empty. Zoom in: The risen Chris is seated on the beach with a fire built, cooking breakfast for some of his hungry fisherman friends. They do need to eat, right?
Big picture: Peter has been arrested and put in jail. An angel breaks him out of the jail and leads him to the house where his friends have been praying for him. Zoom in: A servant girl goes to answer Peter’s knock, and then is so startled that she closes the door in his face and runs to tell his friends he is there instead of letting him in. That sounds like the kind of goofy thing I might do!
Such touching, humanizing, relatable details the word of God provides! Holy Spirit has been generous in his revelations, providing thrilling and grand stories, and adorning them with details that reveal vulnerability, humor, honor, humanity, and beauty.
I love this about life, and I love this about the Scriptures. It is worthwhile to keep zooming in and zooming out, zooming in and zooming out, and gratefully acknowledging the meaning in both the parts and the whole.