At church recently we took the opportunity to think about the place that God’s word, in the form of the bible, takes in our worship and daily lives. Appropriately, it was on Bible Sunday*
It would be silly to ask you to put your hands up or answer out loud, but I’d like you to think what your answers might be to these questions…
I read the bible……
I read the bible every day……
I read the bible every day and then reflect on what I have read…
I read the bible every day and then reflect on what on what I have read and then try to apply it to my life…
The questions are not intended to be accusatory …. that you really should choose the last one in order to be deemed ‘saintly’. The most important thing is whether you actually read the bible!
At college we may not be required to bring our bibles to each lesson or lecture, where we talk about theology, liturgy and formation, but what has become obvious is just how vital Holy Scripture is to our faith. I don’t mean learning huge chunks of it off by heart or being able to recite whole gospels from memory, although it would be handy knowing exactly who said what, where and when sometimes… No, I mean looking to the bible to provide some guidance and answers to the many questions we have, not only about our faith, but about life in general. In the Book, or books to be more precise, lie all those answers. The problem so often is how we understand or interpret them – whether we accept them as instructions or guidance only.
Some people like to look up passages which have been selected as being particularly helpful for the different emotions we may be experiencing. When we’re worried, it might be calming to read, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life” or when facing bereavement to be comforted by “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”, both from Matthew’s gospel or when showing gratitude and thanksgiving to proclaim from the psalms “Let us come before him with thanksgiving.”
Even here though we have to be careful that this is not the only way we experience and use God’s word. There is always the danger that these become our preferred readings, to the exclusion of other, perhaps more difficult passages… and are they simply sentences in isolation whereas the whole verse or chapter may actually have more to tell us?
We also have to be aware of bias. So often nowadays we hear people asserting that their stand on different issues is fully justified because of specific passages in the bible. They trot out verse after verse of carefully selected scripture and vehemently declare this is the truth of the matter because it’s written in the bible and that the bible is the Word of God and you don’t argue with God!
All the while they either consciously or unconsciously blatantly ignore other scripture that might contradict their point of view… just think back to how the ordination of women was debated in the Church or how homosexuality is viewed in general. Surely these contradictory passages too are written in the bible and inarguably the Word of God?
What is does show is that it certainly isn’t easy. This book is not really a teaching manual – but it still does contain all the answers. Whenever we think or talk about God we are allowed to do so using all of our previous knowledge and information, but very much aware of the context in which we do so. What have been our examples, our own life experiences? What have we absorbed though our families, our education, our culture? All of these will give us a unique and corporate vision of what God is about, how he moves in our lives and how he moves us to be in his world. Yet we can’t truly be so individualistic without referring it back to and centring on the Scriptures.
Some people might nowadays treat as laughable the simplistic motto from the 80’s and 90’s of WWJD – What Would Jesus Do, but the basic premise makes perfect sense. When we find ourselves in situations where we have to make decisions it might not be a bad thing to simply ask… if I am trying to be more Christlike in my attitude and behaviour then I really need to understand what examples Jesus has given us… and where do I find that out… in the pages of the Bible.
Whether we’re reading about what Jesus was doing or where he was pointing us to what God was doing through him, fulfilling the prophecies; embodying the word that had gone forth or bringing us hope for the future, if we want to get the truest picture, not just some intellectual theologian’s take on it or an experienced commentator’s exegesis or the humble preacher’s attempt at exposition, then we have to go back to the source.
All those other things are subjective and come with lots of layers of opinion and interpretation. Not that I am saying that any or all of them are incorrect, but we need to peel back those layers and expose the heart of the matter, whether you believe it is the word of God to inspire or the inspired word of God. “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4
My original question emphasised the fact that the bible is a book that needs to be read. We need to make sure it’s not sitting as a pristine but dusty tome in our bookcases, but that it’s placed where it can naturally come to hand. Why not see it as your bedside table book, full of ripping yarns and adventures. Or put it with your dog-eared and food-specked cook books – using it to create delicious recipes for life or maybe in the glove compartment of your car – a combined road atlas and ‘Haynes’ manual to keep you going straight on the journey?
Wherever you keep it don’t forget that unlike a library book there’s no restriction on who could borrow it, it doesn’t have a return by date and each and every copy, whether it’s an original or translation will only ever be a first edition. Happy reading!
*Bible Sunday was celebrated on Sunday 23rd October 2013. It is an annual part of the Church of England’s calendar and resources each year are produced by the Bible Society. Follow this link for more information http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/about-bible-society/our-work/bible-sunday/