I’m not sure what sparked the question, but as soon as it came to my mind, I immediately went back to my early days of trying to read the Scriptures, and how I viewed the Bible. It’s easy to remember. I can even remember my feelings of frustration as I tried to understand. I can recall putting the Bible up to my forehead and literally saying, “Why can’t I just absorb it all instantly?!”
Granted, some of my struggles were likely age-related. I put my faith in Christ at a younger age and consequently wanted to read God’s Word right away. But there was a lot of stuff I didn’t understand. And what I did understand confused me.
Firstly, the Bible tells a story, but it’s not put together in the same way as other books are. It doesn’t go: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3… etc. I mean, the first book and the last book of the Bible are basically your first and last chapters. But everything else? It’s a mix. And for a new believer, and child at that, I struggled. And it frustrated me because I was such an avid reader.
“I read books meant for adults!” I remember thinking. “And I don’t get what it’s saying.”
There was also some maturing that had to happen. I’ve been a Christian for over twenty years, and while yes I started off as a child, it amazes me how many times I can read the same passage over and over again and learn something new each time. Sometimes it’s a focus on a particular word. Sometimes it’s a focus on the symbolic and or foreshadowing aspects of a passage. Sometimes it’s cultural things that strike me, when I suddenly recall a societal aspect of a passage and go, “Oooooooh, that’s why this statement makes such an impact.”
And that was the other thing – as a child, I didn’t comprehend what thousands of years of time passing between the writing of the Scriptures and our present day would do to some of the phrases and cultural implications. There’s so much meaning behind simple passages that I can easily skip over them just because I don’t get it.
But most of all, I remember thinking that the Bible was a Book of Laws. And that it would tell me exactly how to live my life and if I failed I would mess up.
Which is very ironic because, of course, that’s how it started off as for the Israelites – laws laid out to show them their sinful imperfection before a sinless, perfect God.
God gave His people commandments and ordinances and regulations that they had to follow. And they messed up just about as soon as it was coming out of God’s mouth (figuratively here). In the same way, I was frustrated that I couldn’t so easily obey the laws. I was also incredibly frustrated by things I just didn’t understand.
For example, I realized that the Old Testament isn’t a story about how we should live. It’s the truth of the history of the Jews. Whereas I assumed it was going to tell me “This is how you are supposed to live as a good Christian,” what it actually does is show God’s power, justice, mercy, lovingkindness, and omniscience. It shows how amazing He is, and how little we know and understand. And I did, eventually, get this.
But I think my greatest regret in this regard, however, was not figuring out how to study the Bible sooner in my life.
I had the privilege of taking a few college courses that looked at how to study the Bible, and laid out some groundwork. I remember other students who had grown up in private Christian schools being absolutely bored to death, since it was material they had learned years ago, but I was floored. I couldn’t get enough of it.
If you’ve never taken a course on how to study the Bible, I recommend it. Highly. It helps in more ways than you can imagine. A good course on studying Scripture should cover a variety of looking at everything from a single word and all its meanings in the original language to the very book itself. Thus, you should never, ever take anything out of context. Ever. Never ever. Yes, Scripture can stand on its own with even one verse, but keep in mind that that verse was originally written as part of a whole. If you don’t understand the context that that verse comes from, you might miss the actual meaning of the verse.
That being said, simply reading through the Bible is also a type of studying and shouldn’t be forgotten as you dive deeper and deeper into God’s Word. So sometimes I read at a snail’s pace, checking every word against its original meaning. But at other times, I simply read through the Bible without in-depth studying. Because both ways are needed, even if you don’t always understand what you’re reading.
So why does this all matter? In the end, I truly believe that we should be students of God’s Word. Even when it’s difficult to understand.
If your impression of the Bible hasn’t been great up to this point, try again. And again. Don’t give up. The treasures of truth in God’s Word are greater than anything else in this life. So seek after them with all of your heart and mind.