Last week as I was writing one of the blog entries in this current string of issues dealing with reading the Bible, I realized that I hadn’t bothered to ask a very vital question, a question that probably plays a bigger part in whether people read the Bible than any of the other things that I have dealt with. It surprises me that I didn’t ask it because it is the kind of question I love to ask.
I realized that I hadn’t bothered to ask the question, “Why bother to read the Bible?” I mean, if there are so many issues associated with reading it, if it can be so difficult to start and sustain a Bible reading habit, if people have to work hard at what they are reading, well, maybe we should know why we should put so much effort into the process.
For me, that isn’t as hard a question as it might seem. I am a reader–put something written in front of me and I will read it. I have even been known to take a stab at reading other languages that I don’t know, just to see if there is anything there that I can understand. So, for me, reading the Bible in many ways is no different than reading the place mat at the restaurant, the sales flier or the scrap of paper I find on the street–I am going to read it anyway.
But I do realize that many people are not like that–and from some of the comments I read about societal change these days, it seems that more and more, people are moving away from reading or at the very least, are moving towards reading less and thinking less about what they are reading. It seems that screens are winning over print.
So, the question–why put the effort into reading the Bible? This becomes an even more important question in the light of the fact that historically, the Bible has never actually been a best-read book. During the first 200-300 years of the Church, the Bible as we know it didn’t exist–there was the Old Testament and a shifting collection of writings that varied depending on geography, theological stance, personal choice and so on. Even when the actual contents of the Old and New Testaments were settled, most people couldn’t read–literacy was the preserve of a select few.
At a few points during the history of the Faith, it was forbidden for “ordinary” believers to read the Bible. It was felt that even if such people could read, they should leave the Bible to trained and educated people who could be trusted to interpret the Bible correctly. Untrained laity were likely to create and believe heresies if they were allowed to read the Bible.
But God has given the Bible to humanity for a reason. And that reason is simple–God wants us to know what the Bible says. Well, actually, it is probably better to say that God wants us not just to know what the Bible says but even more, he wants us to do what the Bible says (or not do what it says not to do in some cases). The Bible is the story of what we were meant to be, how we came to be where we are now and how we can get back to where we were meant to be.
And, while we can and do get a great deal out of other people telling us what the Bible says, we don’t get the personalized message from God that the Bible contains for each of us if we don’t read it. It is like the comment the people of the Samaritan village made to the woman at the well in John 4.42. She told them about Jesus and they were interested but after seeing Jesus for himself, they said, ” We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” (NIV)
When we read the Bible for ourselves, we discover what God has to say to us directly, not as interpreted by others. The interpretation of others can be valuable and helpful–but do we really want God’s love letters to us read for us completely by others?
May the peace of God be with you.