When my mother was little, she kicked a boy in the shins because she liked him. She laughs about it now, but it didn’t exactly achieve her desired result. If the boy had been wise enough to overlook the first message he could have gotten to the deeper one: she had a crush on him. It’s just that her young brain didn’t know how to say it. In short, the thing repelling the poor boy was actually an odd sort of invitation. Believe it or not, I’ve come to see reading the Bible like this.
Now this is probably a good place to pause, because I should explain my credentials (or lack there of), so you know exactly how to size me up. I’m commenting on a sacred text, after all.
My name is Joshua. I've been going to church as long as I can remember. I can certainly recall Sundays I wasn't at church, but they are by far the exception. I'd put money on the fact that the number of Sundays I've been alive (about 1,434 today) is still surpassed by the number of church services I've attended. This is because I'm a worship leader and often at church more than once a week. Because of this I've been through the Gospels and the more palatable Old Testament stories more times than I can count. I know a thing or two about Deuteronomy and Leviticus. I know Hezekiah is King, but doesn't have a book named after him. I've been to some Bible college and my brother and I nerd out about Hebrew sometimes.
My Bible reading regiment has been inconsistent my whole life. I'd say most days I've read it (a single scripture or a chunk), but there are plenty of days I haven't read it — particularly when I wasn't sure what I thought about the dang thing. For me, it's been an spattering of confusion and mysterious nourishment.
Now that you know I'm not a scholar, let me tell you why this story about my mother harming innocent boys is helpful to me.
See, I think I used to get real bent out shape when I didn't like Bible, or when I didn't understand it— or, more concerning, when I didn't like the God I thought I found. This doesn't worry me so much anymore, because I've been through this rhythm enough. For me it goes something like…
2) Don’t away; run towards
3) Oh, I found God more deeply
See, I know that the Bible is kicking me in the shins, inviting me deeper.
Now, I don't think that God lacks emotional intelligence like a little girl. I don't think there's some better method of teaching that God is avoiding. In fact, I’m saying the opposite. God is smart and for some reason thinks it’s a good idea for humans to have the message that the Bible gives us. Confusion, human errors, contradictions and all.
Allow C. S. Lewis to say it better than me.
“The Bible carries the Word of God; and we…receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message… We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form — something we could have tabulated and memorized and relied on like the multiplication table… But there is one argument we should be aware of … God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this.” — Reflections on the Psalms
Thus, the Bible is designed to require all of us, to change us, grow us. We're indeed searching for a person, not just doctrine. It requires not only paradigm shift, but also action, inward and outward. It requires all the intellect of the most intelligent person, all the diligence of the most diligent person, all of our will, passion.
Through the Bible then, God means to not only indoctrinate us, but to rapture us. I mean this not in an apocalyptic sense, but in the sense that He intends to take whole persons up into who he is (our wills intact).
Again, I am less and less worried about the details of the Bible I don’t understand. I’m more interested in what the overall message is, what God is aiming to say. I’m more interested in being “steeped” in this person. I’m not saying you should just have faith when you are stumped or angry. I am saying those very moments are a call to go deeper.
This is a relief and a concern to me. I do not have to be scholar to read the Bible. God is not requiring that of me. But he is asking for all of my mind, my best mental effort. I do not have to begin preaching on a street corner or fly to Africa and save babies because of what I read; still God and the Bible are asking for my most radical surrender.
- You’re seeking God, not knowledge
- Talk to people smarter than you
- Be okay with paradox
- Be okay not finding your answers for a while or ever
- Be okay finding answers that weren’t the answers you expected or wanted
- Be brave enough to form your own opinions, remembering at the end of the day we’re all humans trying figure crap out (bonus points: extend grace to the people you disagree with)
God, the Bible is crazy, and I don’t understand all of it, but I thank your for it. Please help me see you in it. Amen.