how do you read the Bible?

How do you read the Bible?

bible genesis
Open Bibles are generally easier to read than closed ones.

That question has a range of answers from the simple: “You open the book and read the words on the pages” to the complex: “You need to understand the culture surrounding the events and you need to understand the form of literature that you are reading.”

Actually both are accurate and fair answers to that question. But I want to frame it slightly differently: do you read the Bible searching for answers to life’s problems and complexities or do you read it looking for wisdom to help you work out how to approach life’s problems and complexities? It may seem like an esoteric exercise in semantics (and tricky words) to pose the question that way but I think the answer is important because it affects how we approach life.

I have a book on my bookshelf that I have had since I was a teenager. No, it wasn’t written on a scroll, but it was published in 1978. It’s called The Answer’s In The Bible. And I think for a lot of my life that’s how I have approached the Bible – looking for answers. I have looked to find out what the Bible says about issues that I face. Sometimes, I admit, I have even naively used it to justify my own actions by taking some verses out of context as an answer (you could use Matthew 25:27 as an argument to save money in a bank and not give it away, but that’s not what the parable is about). But the Bible doesn’t have direct answers for a lot of the questions we might ask today because those things could not have been anticipated in the days in which it was written. It does not have anything to say directly about the internet, computers, cars, aeroplanes, television, space exploration and so much more that we take for granted in our 21st Century cultures and lifestyles. And the Bible’s silence on some issues causes us problems if we are just looking for answers on what to do when…

Okay Christians, put the stones down gently and step away. Or at least don’t lob them at me just yet, please – read on…

You see I do believe that the Bible gives us access to God’s wisdom which enables us to work out what to do and how to approach life’s problems and complexities. The wisdom of God is contained throughout the pages of the Bible*. But there are two overarching themes through the Bible – God’s LOVE and JUSTICE – and they are at the heart of his wisdom.

They trump anything else. And if Love and Justice seem to be in conflict then Love wins every time in the form of grace and mercy. If you want the ultimate example of it you find it in what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection: God’s love and justice are both involved, but love wins even as he dies. (The resurrection proves it!)

So if you decide to look for Biblical wisdom rather than answers what does the Bible say about the internet and computers, for example? Nothing directly, as I have said. But it talks (from a starting point of being loving and just) about being honest, not gossiping, not lusting, not expressing hatred for others, good administration, and a lot more. That wisdom can shape good use.

And the great thing about seeking Godly wisdom from the Bible rather than just answers is that the wisdom crosses boundaries of time, culture, geography, ethnicity and any of the other things that can make it difficult for us to apply those words to our lives today. The Bible is not a rule-book to be followed or an instruction manual to help us maintain our lives. It is God’s wisdom expressed as love and justice seen through his interaction with humanity (especially seen in Jesus where the two are combined wonderfully).

So how do you read the Bible? Searching for answers or looking for wisdom?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Even the apparently esoteric rules and regulations of Leviticus contain wisdom: not wearing clothes woven of two different kinds of thread (Leviticus 19:19) is about ensuring that clothes will last and provide value for money because when washed different threads are liable to shrinkage and may either weaken or even tear the garment, which could also lead to public embarrassment.

cupboard love

insert Minister here
insert Minister here

The room in which I study at home is quite small: in some houses it would be called a cupboard. But I can squeeze all my bookshelves (three big ones), my desk and chair, a drawer unit, a couple of other shelves for general gubbins, various magic trick storage boxes and a CD/DVD shelving unit in addition to a few other items that probably come under the heading ‘sundry tut*’.

I am quite happy in this little room. It’s cosy. It’s my space – there is no room for another person in here and as long as I am relatively organised I can get in and out of the door without crashing into things. But recently someone who knows about these things looked in through the door and observed that it breaks all sorts of rule and regulations about working environments. And that leaves me with a dilemma: do I obey the rules and regulations and move my study to occupy the room which is currently our Dining Room or do I carry on as I am – cosy and happy?

If I occupy the Dining Room there will be no space for our dining table and chairs in the house. They could go into what will become a cupboard that was previously my study, but there will be no way in which people will be able to sit around the table! And it’s a colder room, too, having a much larger window and being part of an extension that is not well insulated. But if I stay as I am I am breaking the rules and regulations and I try to be a law-abiding person.

In the end I have decided that as I am the only person affected by the current arrangements and I am happy with them, and that if I adopted an approach that met with the rules and regulations it would seriously inconvenience our family (and make hospitality somewhat difficult) I will stick with the Status Quo** (“Whatever you want, whatever you like, whatever you say you pay your money – you take your choice…  Whatever you need, whatever you use, whatever you win, whatever you lose…”) sorry, status quo.

How do we decide what the right thing to do is? On the whole we obey the law, but sometimes the law can stand in the way of justice. I think it is that sentiment which is behind general disgruntlement with ‘health and safety gone mad’ attitudes. The summary of Biblical ethics by which I try to live is to seek to do whatever is loving and whatever is just, and if the two are in conflict love wins. I am not sure that it’s just to disobey the rules and regulations about my study cupboard, but it’s the loving approach to put my family’s needs before the rules and regulations.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I would usually pronounce this word like ‘but’ however here I would like you to pronounce it like ‘put’ – or if you have a better spelling please let me know!

** If you don’t know what this refers to, shame on you – visit this clip on Youtube now with the volume on your speakers set to 11 (warning – someone had a lot of fun with a vision mixer!).