I love the Bible. It amazes me how some preachers and teachers can take the most exciting book ever and make it boring. Making the Bible boring ought to be a crime.
Not that I’ve always felt this way. In junior high I read the Bible through in a year by reading three chapters on weekdays and five on Sundays. Not that I got much out of it. But I had (and this was the point, I thought) been a “good Christian” by reading it through.
During college I created a topical notebook. Whenever I came across a Bible verse I could apply, I recorded it under the relevant topic. By doing that with the whole Bible, I’d have a comprehensive handbook for living. To know what to do about lawsuits, for example, I’d turn to L and have my answer.
I never finished my notebook, but even if I had it would be collecting dust somewhere. Because along the way I learned that to rightly understand Scripture I had to read it in context, and my method uprooted every passage from its context. But there was an even bigger problem with my Bible-as-handbook approach: I had misunderstood the Bible’s purpose.
In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader* as Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace look at Lucy’s favorite picture, a framed painting of a Narnian ship, the water and ship begin moving. Before long the three children are swept through the picture frame into the land of Narnia.
As I look at my window today I see raindrops, dust, a cobweb. But so long as I just study my window, the window isn’t serving its purpose. It’s not there to be the object of my study; it’s there to show me what’s on the other side.
The Bible is like that. It’s important to study and obey it, but if we stop there we’ve missed its main purpose–to be a window through which we encounter God.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day devoted their lives to memorizing and applying Scripture (and the rules they derived from it) to their lives and getting others to do the same (Matt. 23:15). Yet Jesus scolded some of them: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures” (Matt. 22:29 NLT). He explains where they went wrong: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39 NLT). Discipleship is not a relationship with a Book but with a Person. Scripture cannot give life, Jesus says. Only he can.
Don’t settle for a lifeless Bible. Ask the Spirit to bring it to life. Keep asking until the picture comes alive, till you see the ship swaying, till you feel the spray of salt water on your face and taste it on your tongue.
Then, if you dare, step through the picture frame into that other world.
How do you more often engage your Bible—as a handbook or as a window?
*C. S. Lewis (Collier Books, 1952), pp. 3-8.