Reading with a different perspective

I regularly teach an adult Bible study class at my church. It's a great group with lots of different ages, life situations, and backgrounds represented. One friend who attends is from Southeast Asia; his take on being a Christian, understanding biblical texts, and other topics of discussion has been very helpful to hear, as he illuminates a perspective different from my default Western viewpoint.

This came up recently in a discussion of Jonah 1:1-2:

The Lord said to Jonah son of Amittai, “Go immediately to Nineveh, that large capital city, and announce judgment against its people because their wickedness has come to my attention.”

As I was teaching this passage, I had decided to focus on God as judge, an aspect of God's character that in my opinion is not too popular in contemporary Western Christianity. My goal was to help the class understand that God as creator has the authority and right to judge people who sin. I wanted to counter what I perceive to be the default Western viewpoint about God, namely, that God simply wants to bless and "love on" people. In essence, I taught Jonah 1:1-2 as counter cultural. My friend made some very helpful comments related to the hermeneutics of this text and my presentation. He said that cultural default for him was complete agreement with these verse: God is a judge and punishes sin. The twist for him comes when God is gracious and refrains from judgment. To put it another way, this text affirms what his culture knows about God; for me, this text counters what my culture knows about God.

The hermeneutical point of this difference relates to the issue of perspective: Each reader of the biblical text has a perspective which affects what we read and how we read it. Our perspective frames our interpretation and understanding. The challenge for each of us is to hear the words of the text and allow them to impact us in our particular situation. It is worth noting that the perspective of my friend is more in line with the worldview of the author of Jonah. Does this mean that my understanding and application is wrong? No, rather it means that my perspective as I read simply is different, and the truth of the text will bear fruit in my life appropriate for my situation, which may look quite different for a believer with a different cultural background.