For a period of time, I lived over in England doing missionary-type work. It was good work — “God’s work” kind of stuff. I knew I was supposed to be doing it and I was passionate about it, but MAN was it hard.
I mean, the work was kind of hard, but it was more about how taxing it was: There I was, all the way on the other side of the pond, living alone, working alone, feeling more than a little tired, a lot of lonely, and a bunch of exhausted.
One day, out of nowhere, the postman arrived. He handed me a box. I ripped that thing open and found brownies my old college friend had sent me — along with a slew of encouraging notes. Sure, the brownies were a tad stale after that long trip from colony to England, but they tasted fantastic anyway! My friend had also written a verse on top of the box:
“He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” Proverbs 11:25.
Holy cow I was nearly crying at the resonant truth of those words while I scarfed down those brownies; it was one of those times when God’s Word showed itself to be true, true, true. I mean, there I was, doing work to “refresh” a bunch of people in England when — out of nowhere — I got refreshed.
That was cool.
I believe God’s Word is True. All of it. I really believe that.
It’s powerful, too. It’s so powerful, in fact, it can speak the spark of life into a stinking corpse and bring it right back to wholeness, whether the decaying skin wants it or not. His Word can create land where there was only water and nothingness. It can heal blindness with mud pies. It can uphold a nation though the people be stripped of their land and scattered across the globe for generations. His Word overcomes everything, every time, without fail and without breaking a sweat. The Word of God can have an entire life thrown at it and not only hold that life, but attach to it “every good thing” while removing every poison and offense. It is so perfectly true and so exhaustively abundant that it can unite a broken marriage, heal a dead child, throw demons into disarray, and rewrite history by something as outlandish as impregnating a virgin. All hail the Word of God: it sweeps over the ages of man, framing our histories with its resilient, piercing Truth. Hooray!
I have to be honest. God’s Word is not always an easy pill to swallow. Some of it is very, very, very challenging. Some of it seems to contradict itself. Some of it is just plain hard to understand or know how to apply. To wit:
The number of the beast… is the number of a man: and his number is six hundred and sixty and six. (Revelation 13:18)
The Lord said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:7)
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single (1 Corinthians 7:8)
Whoever does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children — yes, even his own life, cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26)
Whoever doesn’t have a sword, let him sell his garment and buy one (Luke 22:36)
Am I alone? Do YOU have any questions about those verses? Maybe feel like writing up a rebuttal on any of them? Any of ’em make you mad? Shock you? Offend you? MAKE YOU WANT TO RIP THEM OUT OF YOUR BIBLE? (C’mon, don’t be so Sunday School pants. You can admit it. It’s just us here on the webs, hangin out.)
Well, I do.
This great ol’ Bible teacher named Tommy Nelson once said something that’s stuck with me for two decades: “a righteous man is one who STRUGGLES WITH God’s Word”… instead of just coming up with some excuse to leave the thing unconsidered. Whoa. That’s good.
He’s saying that a brave person actually weighs in and struggles with what he or she reads.
The chicken is the one who just goes, “I don’t get it. I don’t like it. I’m done. Where’s my Stephen King paperback?” One of our major problems with Scriptures is that, as Westerners, we refuse to believe anything we don’t fully understand (which, by the way, is silly. You don’t understand how food works — not really — yet you trust in it every day. Same with electricity, computers… even relationships. But when it comes to belief? Nope. It’s often not good enough that we see good results in ours or others’ lives, or even our spirit’s saying “YES!” inside us. We want it parsed and deconstructed and acceptably laid out for us before we bite. Sheesh, we be some wily cats).
So how do we struggle when the Bible offends us instead of giving us happy good vibes? Tips, ya’ll (from years of labor):
- (You’re gonna hate this one because you’ll think it won’t help but I’ll say it anyway:) Bring your frustrations to God. Pray about them. God knows your heart anyway, your anger or doubt doesn’t scare Him off (on the contrary, He lives to save you from them), and you have really good Biblical precedent for taking anger to God (David famously did it, like all the livelong day).
- Resolve to forge onward with it and in it. The Bible is NOT an easy book (and I don’t think it’s supposed to be). It requires a lot of its reader, and actually seems designed to force us into communities of learning. So go there. Don’t give up on it because its awkward and unwieldy and intimidating. Get in there you heady student, you! Don’t be daunted. No daunt! On that note:
- Find a trustworthy community of Bible students and dive in. (It would be nice if I could just say “Attend your local church”… but I can’t. Many churches are jacked up beyond all recognition and should be avoided for the sake of spiritual sanity. Nevertheless…) Our doubts and objections are worth discussing and working out with faithful friends and people who know more about God and the Bible than we do. Find those people (they can often be found lurking in and around the aforementioned churches), tell them your junk (even if it horrifies them) and get them to help you.
- Remember that, as Jesus said, “Your Word is Truth” (John 17:17. Easy memory verse there, people. Just saying). For me, I’m learning to trust it, even when I don’t like or understand it — partly because it has outlasted all its detractors and will certainly outlast my doubts. The Bible is true. All of it… whether we believe it or not, and whether we like it or not. Whether we react with joy or fear or even disgust. I for one am betting my life on its reliability but, even if I didn’t-if I hated it and spent my life trying to tear it down-it would still be Truth. It will always be true, though man defile it, reject it, rebel against it, and try to discredit or destroy it. It will never change. But..! when we do believe it — all of it — it affects the lens with which we see the world. I want to eat His Word whole, like God told Ezekiel to do. I want to be at a place where I believe the Bible is true before I even consider what it means. Then I can submit myself to its power and mystery and get all the goods therein, instead of standing outside it like some Cosmic Arbiter — a job for which I simply don’t qualify. And you know, my personal reactions to any of the verses above (or a thousand others, for that matter) don’t make them untrue. My personal reaction is simply an indicator as to what degree I’m walking in line with the Big Story. (And that’s often a disappointment, but there it is.)
- Know that adjusting you is the Bible’s job. The downcast come to it for encouragement. The rebellious come to it for correction and restoration. The hopeless come to it for courage. The lost come to it for a Way. The confused come to it for Truth. Etc. But if you feel like the Bible is sandpapering you… that’s a totally appropriate feeling! It, along with God’s Spirit that uses it like a surgeon’s scalpel, is an Editor of human hearts, and has been for, oh… about 3,000 years. If you don’t feel like some changes are being made as you interact with the Bible… well, you’re doing it wrong. (Wink!)
Look, sometimes I read about grace, and the Bible makes me happy. But sometimes I read about discipleship and it frustrates me or frightens me. I am all over the place; the Bible is steadfast.
Don’t let the hurdles the Bible presents keep you from deeply engaging with the most impactful collection of divine wisdom ever known to man. Again: I know all the struggles associated with the Bible. I’ve lived em. But you, my friend, don’t you give up. You keep going into the deep end, letting God put His wrench to you. Don’t let your frustration or anger scare you off. The treasure you seek is there. Keep reading and praying, and grappling. Even when the Bible drives you crazy.