When we look at an image of the world we know what we are looking at. Generally in the west we expect to see the North Pole at the top of the page, the equator about half way down and the arrangement of continents centred on the Atlantic Ocean with Europe to right and above centre and the USA and Canada in the adjacent quadrant to the left. Its so familiar to us it looks right. So as soon as we see any other representation it just looks so wrong.
Of course we know that the Earth is an oblate spheroid hurtling through space on at least four vectors of velocity relative to any other point in space-time. There is no right way to conceptualise this movement. In space there is no "up". We have a deep sense of the "upness" of north, and the "levelness" of the Earth’s path of orbit around the sun, and to most purposes the "stationaryness" of the Sun with respect to our own galaxy and also other galaxies. This is a pre-cognitive sense. We look at an image and it feels wrong before we can articulate precisely what it is that is not right. Yet all of these "common sense" judgements are just humanly constructed, historically contingent and provisional. It could not be any other way. There is no Galactic Council to declare which way up the Universe "really" is, so we make knowledge up. Making knowledge is a jolly useful thing to, which enables Human Beings to do far more than other species who do not create artefacts of knowledge.
This is all well and good, but we often forget this when it comes to the Bible. I often hear people contrasting their "plain reading" of Scripture with some artful or creative reading that "strains the text" into lending support for a meaning that was not there. Of course this "plain meaning" is just as constructed, contingent and provisional as the "upness of North", and yet it has been repeated so often that we have this same visceral sense of familiarity that any other reading comes across for the first time as alien, strange or novel. Examples abound, whether you are looking at concepts such as submission, justification or election in the letters of Paul, or perhaps words such as "psyche", "pneuma", "ouranos" or "gehenna". Obviously the biggie is the word "Theos". Here we have a word whose meaning is strongly shaped by historical and personal contingencies. Some wonder whether it is even possible to get "behind" the constructions of human knowledge to a reliable and authentic meaning.
For me there are two moves which help. The first is Tom Wright’s Critical Realism. In which our partial, constructed and contingent knowledge of God is only half the story. The other half is God’s knowledge of us. This gives the space in which a progressive, and ever revising, relationship can emerge – a kind of epistemological agape.
The other is the Anabaptist move. We cannot really gain any worthwhile knowledge of the immortal, invisible God through abstract theological or philosophical conjectures, but if we accept (by faith) that in Jesus we see the fullness of God in a human body (Colossians 2:9), then we have something on which to build, something that will turn everything else we think or know upside down.