In continuing from yesterday’s post on reading the Bible for transformation, we discussed how to be transformed by Scripture we need to be less concerned with speed or volume or the gathering of more information but with depth and receptivity.
The problem is we have been trained to be informational readers, not spiritual readers and in this age of information overload there is the danger of Scripture becoming a lifeless fact rather than a place to encounter God.
This was the issue of some of Jesus’ sharpest disagreements with the scribes and Pharisees. They who knew the words of scripture well but missed the person about whom they spoke. Look at John 5:39-40, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (Emphasis mine.) They knew it all! They had it down. Every jot and tittle. Eugene Peterson noted in his book, A Reversed Thunder, “The Pharisees had an extensive and meticulous knowledge of Scripture. They revered it. They memorized it. They used it to regulate every detail of life. So why did Jesus excoriate them? Because the words were studied and not heard. For them, the Scriptures had become a book to use, not a means by which to listen to God.”
I think the part that is missing so often in our usual reading of the Bible is the pondering; the reflection; the leisurely thinking. We take so little time to “sit” with the text; reading, rereading, meditating and reflecting. This reminds me of the Magic Eye books which featured autostereograms (precisely, random dot autostereogram), which allowed people to see 3D images by focusing on 2D patterns. Simply reading the Bible is like seeing the obvious two-dimensional picture in the Magic Eye. We see what we expect to see, and we hold it at arm’s length. There is no sense of mystery and we are under the silly assumption that somehow we are in control of the text.
To truly “see” will require we bring our whole selves to the text with openness, vulnerability, curiosity. This requires that we suspend our preconceived judgments. It requires us to look differently, to see through to the “picture in the picture.” When we “look” this way, however, we give the Holy Spirit the space to speak without predetermining His answers So in reading for transformation, one of the primary purposes is not taking charge of the text and imposing our knowledge on it but as we surrender ourselves to the text it allows the text to have control over us and “read” us.
I think this is what the Holy Spirit had in mind in Hebrews 4:12, 13 – “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.”
When it says “it judging the attitudes of the heart” that means it read us! It dissects and analyses us! It speaks to those unfinished places in our hearts we’re not even aware of. The words for “laid bare” depict a picture of a gladiator with knee on is opponent’s chest, head in tilted back position, ready for the final blow. That’s our approach to the word: absolute submission. It is critical to approach the Bible as living and active and sharper than a two edged sword, not as metaphor but as reality. The words are not merely words on a page, but words that connect to the core of us.
To encounter Jesus in the text, our approach to Scripture will have to be different. Biblical faithfulness has to be more than just mailing down the meaning of a text. If we approach the biblical text as information that needs to be analyzed or to prove our already presuppositions, we will see only what we want to see. In this way we keep Scripture “safe,” we maintain our false sense of control and the Scriptures never come alive in our hearts. However, as we approach God’s Word through a posture of openness and response, it naturally leads to a posture of yieldedness to God and we abandon ourselves to God and to whatever God wants to do with us.