My seventh-grade daughter has had a rude awakening of sorts this year. She’s been cutting her teeth on everything from classical literature to dense historical biographies. Her symphony of groans usually tips me off that she’s neck-deep in her reading. One of the things that I’m trying to teach her is the huge pay-off of embracing the rigors of her education rather than settling for multiple study halls like her father did when he was in school.
Learning to swim in the deep end of literature won’t directly translate into a thriving career, I tell her, but it will give her a big leg up. It will give her the confidence to stare down rigorous schoolwork - the kind that spooks most people. It will equip her with the skills to digest meaty, complex ideas. (And our world desperately needs influencers of this caliber.) It will thus protect her from intellectual laziness, an epidemic problem in our society, that I would argue is just as harmful to marriages as it is to social media feeds and geo-politics.
Practically, these skills could translate into a college scholarship (or so her mother and I hope!). It may even give her an advantage on the bar exam or entrance exams into med school one day. Or it may equip her with the refined wisdom to be a stay-at-home mom to raise her children with grace, joy, and discipline.
I say all that because learning to mine truth from God’s word is like learning to savor classical literature. It’s not always easy to read. Truth isn’t always self-evident. (Consider a passage like Genesis 38 in which Tamar tricks her father-in-law, Judah, into sleeping with her, and she is the one declared righteous by the end of the story!) And studying the Bible sometimes takes…wait for it…work.
I don’t necessarily mean grinding, wearisome work (though I am deeply grateful for the contributions of the God-fearing scholars and academics whose labor in the interpretation of Scripture daily edifies me and takes me to places I couldn’t go alone). I am talking about slowing down as we read it, meditating on it, and savoring it. I’m talking about entering into a gentle dialogue with God’s word. Honoring it as holy, even lovely, as it is the source of truth and life. Treating it with the dignity it deserves. Consider the arduous cleansing rituals the Old Testament priests had to go through in order to minister before the Lord (Exodus 29). Remember that we are going before the same God they did, Yahweh. Yes, we who trust in Christ are washed in his blood and therefore accepted, but that gives us no license to be flippant in his presence (Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 2:17; Romans 12:1).
Next week, I will begin wrapping up this short blog series and then move on to another theme in the weeks thereafter. In the mean time, ask yourself why you want to read the Bible in the first place. Do you really want to know God? Do you really want to be immersed in the wholeness of his identity, experiencing freedom from your broken past? That won’t happen with an infrequent cursory read of the Scriptures. That won’t even happen if you read the Bible everyday with a wandering mind. That will happen as you seek to be with God as you read His word.
For Christmas and my recent seminary graduation, my wife and children got me a wonderful gift, one I had been wanting for a couple of years. It’s the calf-skin ESV Bible. It is not cheap. But that Bible may be the most precious inanimate possession I own. I refuse to write in it. I will not leave it lying around where my 19-month-old can get to it. Even when I’m working at my desk, I make sure that my glass of water is no where near it in the event I have a spill. I know it’s just leather and paper. But treating it that way helps me to remember how precious God’s word is. It reminds me that it is vital to my future. And because I know it’s vital to my future, it’s becoming more and more vital to my every day.