Sometimes I Struggle With the Bible

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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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6 responses to “Sometimes I Struggle With the Bible”

  1. Kara says:

    I understand what you’re saying but lately (as I’m reading through the OT), I’ve felt that the loving Father God of the new covenant bears little resemblance to the wrathful (even cruel?) God of the OT. How do I reconcile that? I know it isn’t a new concern, but at age 62, I’m feeling it keenly for the first time in my 54 years of being a Christ follower.

  2. Jim Burk says:

    At 77 I’ve wrestled with the same dilemma, and with the same rationale that makes it difficult for me to accept verses quoted from psalms, proverbs and other books since they are usually without context, so I’ve come to peace with the God of the Old Testament. I may be wrong of course, but If we consider the Old Testament as a whole, dealing as it does with the Jews, we see faith in God, worship of God and dependence on God to produce blessings. In other words the kind of life God expects of men naturally brings blessings. It is a law just like the law of gravity and as true today as it was in Old Testament times.

    The reverse is also true. Disobey God, substitute the man made as a route to the spiritual world, live a life of cruelty, indulgence, and selfishness and disaster follows. Thus, I interpret terms such as, “God sent war, pestilence or plague,” to mean that to disobey the laws created by God inevitably bring disaster. And always there is God waiting to accept the wanderer back, mourning over lost relationships, and offering His eternal love.

  3. Jim Burk says:

    At 77 I empathize. I am not fond of individual proof texts since they are often inconsistent with broader the context. I tend to look at your question in the broadest possible context, namely the whole Bible. The entire Bible has several underlying themes, one of which being, “You will reap what you sow.” This does not mean that God has to manipulate every case of reward and punishment. Rather, sowing and reaping are an outcome of natural laws created by God. Thus, selfishness, cruelty, thievery, murder and the installation of man made creations to contact the spiritual bring about disaster.

    We must remember that old and new testaments alike show God waiting for His love to be accepted and enjoyed by His creation. The language of the New Testament differs from that of the Old, but God’s love permeates both.

  4. Gillian Berg says:

    I can certainly understand what Kara is saying…in fact, the issue of comparing the God of the OT to the seemingly more gentler character of Jesus, is one that many are struggling with now more than ever. How do we reconcile ourselves to a God who scares us? Who appears to allow His people to suffer without Him? Who remains quiet? Who shows anger? Why would we want to align ourselves with God, who, when we remove everything “nice” about Him, is in fact, somewhat terrifying?

    I have struggled with this question myself, and I have come to the conclusion that maybe…that’s the whole point.

    Before Jesus came to show us the way, maybe we needed to understand what it was we needed saving from. We (humanity) were (and continue to be) heading in the direction of life without God in it. Void of His presence. If we choose that now, it will carry forward forever. For eternity. When I read the OT, I see God the Father, taking great pains to show us tangibly, what life without His presence, His mercy and His grace COULD look like. Not because He would with-hold it; because we could, in our foolishness or pride, choose a life without it. The Israelites did so, again and again and again. Despite His faithfulness and forgiveness, they continued to reject Him. And He (in love) continued to show them what life (and eternity) would be like without Him in it.

    Not so great.

    If God had remained silent all those centuries; if He had not spoken aloud, rebuked, taught, given and taken away…when Jesus came to say, “Hey friends…I am here to save you!” We would turn to him, shrug, and say, “Save us? From what? From who?”

    We still do.

    Now, when I read the OT and see a God that exhibits power and strength and makes me tremble and I don’t understand Him and I wish He’d be nicer and cozier and make me smile…I think, “Thank you, God, for showing me that there is a very real and terrifying reality of life without you as my protector. For showing me that there are forces that try to make me believe that to live apart from you will not be terrifying. That it would be useless to pretend you do not exist and try to live existentially apart from you. ”

    Although I do not understand Him (nor would I expect to), nor am able to explain him (nor would I wish to try), I do not believe the God of the OT is showing us anything different than Jesus is showing from the NT. He is just revealing the same message, from the opposite direction.

    – Gillian

  5. Gayle says:

    Our limited intellect has a difficult time dealing with a God of punishment and a merciful God. When you look at the parent/child relationship, we see a parent (God) who gives His children the very best, yet they (children) see things & want things their way. In God’s mercy He gives opportunities for change, yet rebellion continues. So then comes punishment. Not what we as children want to deal with.

  6. greg rogers says:

    I understand the sentiment in this article and in the comments well! A couple of ideas:

    1. A God of love who sacrificed His very own Son for us must have had to do so for a really really good reason in resolve of a very bad problem…and that problem was our sin. America has gotten way to loosy goosy about how we focus on God’s love and His forgiveness forgetting that this saves us from His wrath. He is a God of love AND a God of perfect justice…In the OT, God sending wars, pestilence and plagues pales compared to Jesus declaring that without faith in Him as the only door for the forgiveness of sin, a place of eternal torment and gnashing of teeth awaits for the unbeliever! Jesus spoke about hell a lot and we Christians need to be actively sharing our faith.

    2.A great book called the Fear Factor extrapolates out from Scripture that the cure for a person subject to irrational fears on earth is not to try to drum up being more courageous on earth…the cure is to have more reverential fear of God! It is very important to read the OT and the NT to get a more full representation of who our unchanging God really is. He is outstanding, holy, righteous AND loving and when our faith trusts in this God in whole as He describes Himself, our tendency will be to sin less, pray more, reverence God and fear less as born from the whims of man and world.

    3. The way I look at Scripture is it is an honest recording of real people in real historical events where God acted in that history in a perfect manor in response to the situation in various ways. We,in all of human history, including Christians today are very
    complex beings with many layers that can very discretely harbor sin in about a billion shapes, sizes, types and fashions And Scripture will either depict some historical narrative of God dealing aptly towards people or will directly teach people for repentance of those sins towards joy in knowing God more fully. Problem is that sometimes when we read the Scripture, we may not be in the same place as our loaded wagon of interwoven idols in the fabric of our life contrasts to the person, group, church the Bible is addressing in that section. And this may be confusing. Jesus in His sermon on the mount, almost it seems in the same breath says don’t practice your righteousness before man then encourages us to shine the light of our good deeds! The Bible contradictory? NO! Confusing? Sometimes. But we must understand that the Bible is revealing our God taking a scalpel and carving the fat of the sin away such as in this case in the sermon on the mount, sins of both self righteousness and apathy!

    4. Lastly-Hollywood and other worldly vehicles in a real enemy’s hand have done a pretty good job to deceive our minds into thinking that narratives such as a Creation week, history surrounding Noah’s Ark, and others are just fairy tales…not to mention that almost always they depict the Christian in their shows in a bad light. All I know is that our Bible reveals the real God who can do anything He wishes and may or may not be concerned about the evidence left behind after the accomplishment. And when our God says something, we can count on it because He never lies. Faith in Him is not just tinkering with a bit of religiosity, ironically like that found in the very Hollywood crowd either! This is eternal life: to Know God! He laughs at the intelligent scientist who thinks he can explain naturalistically how life arrived on this planet mostly without Him. He frowns when the world mocks biblical historical narratives as mere myths. He is disinterested in people who drum up some human made formula for finding a purpose in life. He is God and His Word is so tremendous and perfect and I hope that my own words inspire me to read it more to know Him more until glory!

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