Questions when I hate to read the Bible

In my professional life, I am currently faced with learning a new software package. It is a niche program for our industry and unfortunately the only training is through a company that we compete with on some levels, though not directly. Enough so, however, that our management doesn’t want to send money their way for our education – which leaves us on a self directed learning path.

I learned long ago that sitting down and reading a book about something is an ineffective way for me to learn a new skill. I need to be hands on, working the skill and learning from what I can and can’t do. There is a lot of trial and error this way, of course, as I struggle with unlearning old programs while exploring new and different options. As I’ve been thinking about and working through this process, I was struck by some similarities in my Bible reading – or should I say, lack thereof.

We’ve all been taught that the Bible is a massive compendium of God’s divine wisdom and moral revelation, and that it holds the answers to the whats and whys of Life. But how is someone who doesn’t naturally click with reading as a form of instruction supposed to interact with this massive ediface?

Sometimes I open the Bible and am faced with a swarm of sentences, a wilderness of words – yes, I can see that they have meaning, but finding meaningful application is like Indiana Jones staring across the chasm at the chamber of the Holy Grail, knowing that there is an invisible bridge, but so hesitant to take that first step. How do you learn to apply? How do you find the motivation to read when there is no application?

If our works of faith are rooted in Biblical wisdom, what other ways does a Christian have of gaining knowledge? Sermons are good, but 30-45 minutes a week of oral learning seems limited. Small groups certainly engender learning through discussion, though laced with personalities and other restrictions. How else can the Bible be presented to facilitate learning? Oral recordings are perhaps one approach, though I just can’t shake the bleary eyed image of a college lecture hall from my mind. Or perhaps dramatic resettings like The Voice or the work of Calvin Seerveld? Yet the remonstrations of blogdom’s scholars against such so-called pornifications of the sacred texts rings loud in one’s ears. Still – I happen to like them.

If I cannot read the Bible and learn in a manner effective to me, then I must be defective. I must be hard of heart. I must not be regenerate. The text is holy and if it is inaccessible to me, then I have no hope. If I have no hope, I have no faith and the Bible is a dusty book that is interesting, but ultimately useless…

Or. An alternative. A thought, a revelation. We are called Christians, not Biblicans. Christ is who we serve. Not the Bible. Those who study the Bible must remember that. Study to serve. How do we serve? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength – and love your neighbor as yourself. Apply that. Only that. All the rest comes from that. Do that. First.

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9 Comments

  1. Posted June 16, 2009 at 3:24 AM | Permalink

    E.S.,

    Good stuff. But I have to say, my alternative to all of these is exactly this: Blogging. It gives discussion, it gives oral learning, it provides focus, and daily input. It’s why I keep it up, even when I’m busy – it keeps me rooted in scripture, even though I have trouble simply sitting and reading the bible.

  2. Posted June 16, 2009 at 9:02 AM | Permalink

    That’s a very good point, Damian – I’ve had precious little time for blogging in the past few months and I can feel it gnawing at me. Thanks for the great reminder to try and stay focused!

  3. Posted June 16, 2009 at 9:07 AM | Permalink

    If I may, I’ll pass along a little bit of wisdom I learned from one of my uncles who is a pastor. It changed my approach to the Bible. After about two years of intense, probably daily Bible reading, I hit a wall. I had a hard time reading, I had a hard time understanding, and I was very frustrated because it was the first time I had experienced this. I asked him to pray with me for breakthrough, and, as we prayed, he explained that my body physically needed time to digest all that I had learned and that it would take some time. I suppose if the Word is bread this makes sense. He also explained that there are periods where the key point of reading/study is not for insight or revelation, in an immediate sense, but simply to bind the word in our heart for the Holy Spirit to bring forth as needed. Why don’t I understand a particular passage in Leviticus today? Maybe because I’m not supposed to…yet. When the time and application are right, the Holy Spirit will bring it to remembrance. I pray this for you, my brother.

  4. Posted June 16, 2009 at 12:02 PM | Permalink

    Wise words, Peter! I have experienced it in my own life.

    ElShaddai, yes, do that first. But do the Bible as well. The Word is the foundation for it all.

  5. Posted June 16, 2009 at 9:29 PM | Permalink

    Did you catch the Psalms read on public radio in Britain I linked to a while back? I don’t know if they are still available, maybe someone put them on YouTube.

    We need more really excellent readings of the texts. I will never forget hearing the entire gospel of Mark recited by a single actor with a minimum of props.

  6. Ryan
    Posted June 18, 2009 at 9:27 AM | Permalink

    This may not be all that helpful but… when I am in a mood where Bible reading seems laborious, I simply close my eyes and remember some story, scene, verse, or Psalm that I love. I replay it a few times in my mind and think about what it might mean, about how God revealed himself in that story, about how we as people should respond to him. Of course the ability to this requires some level of memorization on the front end. But in my experience, Bible reading is only one step in understanding the Bible.

  7. Posted June 19, 2009 at 7:30 AM | Permalink

    Great thoughts, guys – thanks for sharing those!

    @Peter – that’s a great reminder that even our study needs a sabbath.

    @Gary – thanks for the support! I might quibble that “God is the foundation for it all”, but since the Bible is our chief revelation of God, I suppose that might be splitting hairs. I remain thirsty, however, for knowing how else Christians know God, other than the Bible.

    @John – I will look for the Psalms link. I had thought about getting the Bible Experience edition of the Psalms for my Kindle, but I’m balancing the “fear” that they would become background noise if I’m not perfectly concentrating on listening.

    @Ryan – yes, I love free association thinking starting from a Bible verse or passage. Many of my blog posts are the result of the links that occur to me during those times. Though I always wonder if I’m overlaying my interpretation over God’s intent and am missing the mark, reading things into the text that aren’t there.

  8. Posted June 22, 2009 at 1:15 PM | Permalink

    I do not use the Bible primarily for learning. Oh I know it is our principle source as believers, but I read it to hear another person’s heart – His. It is not necessary that I understand, although I do study in order to learn and understand, but that is not principally my approach. I approach the sacred text to hear — not acquire knowledge. I know that sounds very strange. But at my age, and having read and studied the Bible my whole life (at times experiencing just what has been described here — as long as I was trying to learn something), I have read it more than 30 times cover to cover, and much I still do not understand. But our Lord Jesus is able through His Spirit to unfold Himself out of those dry pages and delight my heart in His person. Draw near to listen — that changes everything. I believe James says this in “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” That works through the pages of the book as well as in what is normally called prayer.

  9. Posted June 25, 2009 at 11:20 PM | Permalink

    I think you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. I believe most of us have undergone what you are experiencing right now. You should not think worse things about yourself just because you have difficulty reading the bible or if you are not interested reading it sometimes. As many would say, the bible is not your textbook, you should not force yourself to read it. Reading the Bible also needs divine inspiration.