Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On Reading the Bible


You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life - John 5:39-40
When I was a young boy I was afraid of the dark. Every time fear gripped me I put a large bible under my pillow to help me sleep. I thought as long as the bible was close to me I was safe. In my teens I longed for God’s love and acceptance. So I would read the bible first thing in the morning and the last thing before going to bed. I spent countless hours reading the bible thinking that it would make God happier and that he would love me more and bless me more because of the time I put into it. Just over a decade ago, as a new seminary student I studied the bible passionately, memorized verses and devoured the lectures in theology with an intention of growing in knowledge of the bible – mostly as an end in itself.

As I reflect on these three stages of my life I realize that I had good intentions and was sincere in the use of the bible but I was sincerely wrong. As a young boy my security was in the size of the bible and not on the one it was pointing to, as a teen I used the bible to manipulate and impress God and others for approval and acceptance and as a new seminary student I used the bible for personal agendas and as an end in itself, ignoring the fact that its primary purpose is to point to the person and work of Jesus.


The purpose of the Bible is to reveal who God is and how we are to live in relationship with him and with creation. In John 5:39-40 Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who failed to understand this. The Pharisees were well intentioned in keeping the laws and sincere in their use of the bible (the Old Testament). They viewed it as God’s word and cherished it and studied it vigorously on a daily basis. They had the ability to quote the bible at any given time and impress others with their jargon. 


But at the end of the day, the Pharisees just had head knowledge and no heart change and as a result became pretentious, prideful and judgmental. Despite their discipline, study and sincerity in using the bible, they failed to recognize or acknowledge the person of Jesus to whom the bible was pointing to. As Donald Frisk puts it, what they had "was not a personal knowledge of God’s righteousness, his faithfulness, his judgment, his love and his desire to redeem his people.”


Today we live in an age and context where the bible is accessible in different languages, translations, sizes and formats. We can read it, underline it, color it, access it online and listen to it while we drive or take a shower. While there are many groups of people around the world who don’t have access to the bible in their own language and many more who are being tortured and killed for attempting to read it, we in Canada have the freedom and luxury to use it whenever we want it and however we want it. The scary thing is that we have a tendency to either take this abundant access to the bible for granted or use it as an end in itself.


Friends, maybe we take the bible for granted, maybe we don't.  Maybe we are motivated to use it for the wrong reasons, maybe we are not.  In any case, my prayer for us is twofold. 


First, that we (in our generation) would acknowledge and value the bible primarily as God's revelation of Himself. Second, when we read, memorize, study and meditate the bible, may we not do it as an end in itself but solely to know the person and work of Jesus it points to in an authentic, passionate and intimate way, and join him in the work he is doing in our world today.

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