Reading the Bible: A dying art?

There has never been a more important time for those of us who follow Christ to get to grips with the Bible

What is the first word that comes to mind when you think about God? Go on, stop for a moment and ask yourself. Is it ‘love’? Or maybe ‘judgement’? How about ‘fear’? Or ‘sacrifice’ perhaps? I’ve no doubt that if we put everyone’s answers together, they’d be a pretty broad spectrum of words in play.

When it comes to people’s perception of what God is like, there are so many distorted views, or, perhaps more accurately, partial views. It amazes me, for example, how many Christians still think there’s a fundamental difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New. God is full of wrath and judgement in the Old Testament, people think, but thanks to Jesus, God has calmed down and is now loving and forgiving. This, sadly, betrays a really limited understanding of the eternal nature of God and a struggle—mainly due to poor teaching—to grasp how the Bible works as one evolving story.

The truth is that God, like all of us, is multi-faceted. He is loving, but he will also pass judgement on us all. He is compassionate, and yet his presence provokes an awed fear. God offers forgiveness to all, yet sin is the trigger for his immense wrath. God was and is all these things—both in the Old and the New Testament. He hasn’t changed, even if our understanding of him has progressed.

One of the challenges we face as followers of Christ is working out how all of these aspects of the person of God come together and work in harmony. If we don’t manage to do that, and latch onto only one or two of his dimensions, then the image of God we portray to others around us is a deformed one.

When people say they don’t believe in God, it’s easy to ask them what god they don’t believe in. Typically I find that I don’t believe in the god they describe either. And yet they are convinced that the image of the—usually Christian—god they have rejected is an accurate one. Sadly, Christian and atheist alike are often as poor as each other at theology and grabbing random verses to support an pre-conceived idea of god.

With Christianity—and religion in general—coming under such overwhelming pressure from movements like new atheism, there has never been a more important time for those of us who follow Christ to get to grips with who God is, what the Bible is, and how it all fits together in our twenty-first century Western world.

And despite the ever-increasing availability of Bible’s, commentary’s, Christian books, teaching, and podcasts, our biblical and theological literacy doesn’t seem to be improving. I suspect that these all cater to a particular niche of people within Christianity, but it isn’t touching the vast majority of us ‘normal’ Christians who are simply getting on with life and have little time to study theology and barely steal more than the occasional glance at a few verses now and then.

This raises the question of what can be done about this. How do we normal, every-day followers of Christ get a rich and healthy understanding of the Bible? And what would help us to better delve into the treasure-trove of riches in the Bible for ourselves?

There isn’t space to fully address that question now, but before we veer straight towards discussing any particular tools or Bible study aids, we have to acknowledge that it starts with desire. Why don’t most of us spend more time reading the Bible and getting to know God through the scriptures? Harsh as this may sound, for many of us the answer is: because we don’t want to. The truth is that, if we did want to read the Bible, we would; we’d find a way. So what’s the cause of this lack of motivation? I suspect for many of us, it’s because we don’t know where to start. Or perhaps it’s because we always end up confused when we read it. Or it could just be that we find it really boring. There are all kinds of reasons, but dealing with desire—and these barriers to desire—is where it all starts. Until we find the motivation, no amount of study aids or teaching or podcasts will help us at all.

How do we reach the point where we cannot help but pick up our Bible because we know we must though? And I don’t me ‘must’ in the sense of feeling we ought to out of some religious obligation; I mean that we reach a point where we realise that it’s much too important a book, full of too much wisdom and insight, to simply leave gathering dust on our shelves. What will it take for us to reach the place where we simply have to read it; we can’t help ourselves? How do we reach this place of longing for the connection to God, and an understanding of our world, that can only fully come through the Scriptures?

That’s what we’ll look at next time. Until then, I’ll leave this one parting thought from a friend of mine, Brian Russell:

Scripture is endlessly interesting when we remain mindful enough to ponder it deeply and listen attentively.

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I’ve been asking my daughter the wrong questions

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