A young member of our fellowship wanted to know how she could better engage with the Word. My wife, in her reading plan, is walking ponderously, with long suffering, through the book of Job. Having conquered Numbers, quite a few times, I’m always a little chagrined to remember there are quite a few more chapters with long genealogies, regimental muster lists, and ceremonial temple assignments with names like Merari, Elizaphan and Shemaiah.
Plainly put, the Bible is not as accessible as an episode of Mad Men. Scripture can be very sexy, but she’s not a cheap date. You have to take her into your family, give her a home, live with all of her complicated history, and let her change and civilize you. She’s the sort you sit down with, in a quiet corner of the room, where you sip coffee, ponder words, and make confessions.
I advocate making a simple ritual out of scripture reading. Establish your time. Remove yourself. Pray before you begin. Take it all very slowly. Imagine yourself reading the words on stage, under a spotlight, relishing each syllable the way you might if you were actually performing it for an audience. Have you ever heard the Word read in church by someone rushing to get through it? Rushing to show well quickly they can read? That’s a bit liking putting “have sex” on a honeymoon check list. Some things should be savored.
Free yourself to conclude that some of it might feel tedious, boring, repetitive. Some of it may annoy you. You may see a side of God that troubles you deeply. Embrace the trouble. God is convicting you, cutting out spiritual cancers, taking a carving knife to your presuppositions, sanding your coarse edges and smoothing you down. The Word isn’t wrong; you are. If the Bible doesn’t change you, you aren’t reading it.
Most of us live under the tyranny of what people have said about the Word, and not the Word itself. This is your chance to burn off the false teachers in the bright sunlight of the source itself. Mean spirited legalists and flaky Universalists have built entire ministries out of repeating one section of the Owner’s Manual over and over again. This is your chance to get past them, to avoid the high dealership maintenance charges, and take some pleasure in knowing they get infuriated by your doing the work on your own.
Understand that everything the Word teaches must be understood against everything else it teaches as well. Moses murdered, but he also loved. Abraham trusted God with all his heart; he also had concubines and a big band of warriors. Jesus forgave, but He also condemned. Paul taught and he also cursed. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
Understand the Bible for what it is: a threat. Tyrants have burned and banned it throughout the centuries. “Men of God” have tried to keep it for themselves. Intellectuals have sneered at it. Atheists have called it a fairy tale. Pietists have reeled at its erotic and celebratory power. Humanists can’t abide its immutable truths. Muslims shriek, in demonic rage, at the notion that you can be a “child of God.”
And yet, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was made flesh.”
We should be eating the bread everyday.