“You have heard it was said… But I tell you…” (Jesus on six occasions in his Sermon on the Mount)
Let’s admit it, lots of us struggle with the Bible. Maybe you have a history with it, maybe it’s foreign to you, but for so many it is a confusing, old book. It’s not unusual for people to open it looking for inspiration or answers only to close it again after struggling with boredom or confusion or maybe it didn’t perform magically as you hoped.
As evangelicals we are taught (pressured?) to read it, study it, memorize it, and ‘do our devotions’ every day. That’s easy for pastor so-and-so or the old, saintly lady from church – they have the training and the time to do the work of the Bible.
Perhaps we have trouble focusing, or we are the part of the population that doesn’t like to read Often the wording and culture of the Bible are confusing or irrelevant to modern minds. For non-christians and novices, it really seems to be a nasty piece of writing that people use to justify all kinds of actions, attitudes, and judgements.
I’m here to say relax, the Bible is for you. The thing about God is that he understands you and is infinitely more patient than those who tell you how to do this. A relationship with God is just that – a relationship – so making time with God into something mechanical makes the whole thing meaningless.
There are other ways to experience God (topic for another time) but the Bible is our hard copy. It contains divinely inspired, preserved writings by human beings who felt it import to record and preserve especially meaningful stories, thoughts, and wisdom. I absolutely believe in serious biblical study – that has been my passion for most of my life – but I understand not everybody has the same time or interest.
If you struggle with reading it then why not try looking at it differently? Perhaps read less for information and more to listen. Maybe read shorter pieces and listen more thoughtfully, asking God to impress something on your heart. And instead of trying to understand some great truth from the story, what if you looked at it as a discussion?
What if the Bible could be a conversation that you participate in so you can discover more depth than just the meaning of its words? It already contains discussions within itself so why not let it involve you? Ask questions and imagine how what is said informs what is unsaid. Why not participate in the ancient Jewish tradition of using scripture to draw out the important opinions of others as you discuss/argue it together?
What if the account of Creation isn’t an argument about science or the age of the planet? What if David and Goliath isn’t just about overcoming giants? What if Noah’s ark isn’t about a boat full of animals? Could the Exodus narrative be more than a distant piece of national history? How do the prophets speak to today’s religion and culture?
Perhaps the Psalms can help us express anger and help us heal when our anger is exhausted. Maybe Revelation is not about apocalypse but a commentary of hope for our world? And maybe the Cross is somehow the fulcrum of history rather than just a way to keep us out of hell. Maybe worship is something even more majestic than we know.
See, the point is that it’s a living book; there is much more for us in the Bible than just words.
Imagine your living room full of guests. They squeeze themselves into your sofa and onto various chairs set around the room, while others are happy to sit on the floor. You make them comfortable, give each a small napkin, and you serve tea, coffee, crackers and cheese, and maybe something sweet.
Most don’t know each other – they’re all very different and represent a variety of ages, shapes, sizes, educations, intellects. Some have known war, others were slaves; some knew power, most only weakness; some rich but most poor. Poets, warriors, musicians, lovers, business owners, theologians, farmers, mystics. There are kings and martyrs, the obedient and the rebellious, murderers and dreamers.
But they all have one thing in common: God has become everything to them.
And so, as they make small talk and sip their drinks, you announce that you would like to begin with an ‘ice-breaker’. After the initial confusion over what an ice-breaker is, you ask the group, “As briefly as possible, share something you’ve learned about God and people.”
You confirm the angle of the video recorder, then hit start. There is a moment of awkward silence, but eventually a man with a long, grey hair sighs and mumbles, “Well I guess we should start at the beginning.” And that is all they need.
Each in their own way they begin to share God-and-people stories. For some, a brief biography is in order; for others it is that ‘time’ when God was real to them; for some it is a miracle or a hard lesson learned. For still others the only way they can express themselves is through story-telling, symbolism, wonder. Some share their own experiences but many tell stories of others, either as eye witnesses or as recounted to them by loved ones.
And so they go, all day long, sharing their experiences, stories, thoughts. More coffee and tea are brewed; some guests ask if there is wine. Voice after voice they eventually begin to tire, but voice after voice their themes are unified in their ultimate joy and love for God.
When all is quiet and the cups and saucers are in the dishwasher, you sit down and realize what a wonderful thing has just happened. It occurs to you that some themes had emerged: the human instinct to replace God and its inevitable failure; God’s love for people; Jesus the Son of God; the mystery of the Cross; God’s primary work of healing and rescue. You know there is much more between the lines for you reflect on and digest but that will require more exploration and discussion.
As the next days and months and years pass, you often refer to the video for information or encouragement. But you now have more unanswered questions about what happened in that room full of saints: What did she mean by that? How did the other person think or feel? What happened before or after? That didn’t make sense, I wonder what he was really trying to say? In spite of the privileged stories you have gathered, there is so much left unsaid – perhaps mostly unsaid.
Yet here it is on this device in your hands, for you to look at, think about, share. Treasured by many and now given to you.
That’s the Bible – not God in words, but God’s Word in us. You don’t have to be a scholar to love the Bible, you have to be a wanderer, a seeker. A human.
Do you read it or love it? Do you manipulate it or grow in it?
For what it’s worth you have my permission to take the Bible in small pieces (thanks for that, Brian) and allow it to raise questions and initiate new thoughts. Learn from the words but learn also to think outside the words so God’s unspoken Spirit can soak into your heart.
There are plenty of religious types, most on TV or internet(!), who will try to tell you what the Bible means. Be very careful, it’s much more than their feeble meanderings (more on that next time). Not everyone will trust the Bible with you, but God does.
And feel free to be human – to discuss it with other humans – so that wide, wild, bold new ideas and blessings can be opened up for you.
Because from the start it has been divinely inspired but humanly expressed.