Sometimes I Struggle With the Bible
Sometimes I struggle with the Bible.
When I read Scripture, potential distractions abound. So many things seem more urgent and alluring—things like email, text messages, social media, the day’s news cycle, to-do lists, the latest Netflix series or music release, or opportunities to connect with actual, in the flesh human beings.
Boredom can set in. True, it is all God’s Word—what an amazing gift! But when it comes time to plod through Leviticus, or those long lists of who begat whom and who is in this tribe or that tribe, or trying to make sense of laws that feel more dated than relevant, or engaging the darker parts—rape, incest, family dysfunction, bloody wars, lying and stealing, backbiting, pettiness, and frustrated prayers—natural instinct says there might be a better use of time.
I also find the Bible perplexing. Children die for the sins of their parents. Entire people groups are oppressed and abused and enslaved by people in power. Weak and innocent people suffer while ugly-hearted people prosper. God saves some and passes over others. Two well-meaning men get struck dead for touching the ark of God. And the list goes on. These and other unnerving depictions can feel less like inspiration and more like cable news.
I relate to what Mark Twain allegedly said, that “it ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it’s the parts that I do understand.”
It is comforting to know that one of my personal heroes, C.S. Lewis, shared similar feelings about the more perplexing parts of the Bible. Reflecting on Psalm 19:10, where King David compares Scripture to a treasure of fine gold and a taste sweeter than honey, Lewis wrote:
This was to me at first very mysterious. “Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery”—I can understand that a man can, and must, respect these “statutes,” and try to obey them, and assent to them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they exhilarate…they may obey, they may still respect the statute. But surely it could be more aptly compared to the dentist’s forceps or the front line than to anything enjoyable and sweet.
Indeed, honest Bible readers—even skilled teachers of the Bible like C.S. Lewis—have found parts of it difficult, puzzling, mystifying, and even offensive. As much as we can rejoice in, get inspired by, and find comfort in certain parts of the Bible, other parts will disturb us—namely, the parts that contradict our feelings, instincts, hopes, dreams, traditions, and cultural values. I recently saw a quote that said, “Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself. They reject it because it contradicts them.”
The Apostle Paul, whose life completely upended when the Word of God came to him on the road to Damascus, wrote things such as:
All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).
Jesus, too, emphasized the centrality of God’s Word in the lives of believers when he said that we are to love God not only with our hearts, but also with our minds (Luke 10:27). He described the revealed will of his Father as his food and drink (John 4:34), resisted Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture, saying, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:1-11), quoted the Psalms from the cross (Matthew 27:46; Luke 23:46), and emphasized to his followers that abiding in him and abiding in Scripture are one and the same (John 15:7-10).
To put it another way, we simply cannot separate life in Christ from a life that is utterly saturated with and dominated by Scripture. Fulfilling our calling to love and enjoy God with everything that we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, stands or falls on whether (or not) we become people of The Book.
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