When I hate reading Scripture

  • by Philip Long
Photo courtesy Brian Moore/Flickr.

Are you stuck, assuming the Bible is just telling you to trust harder, have more faith, or just quit being such a lame Christian? What if there was a better way to read?

I have a hard time picking up my Bible.

Not only are there the problem passages I encounter, but there’s an emotional weight I feel when I read that crushes me. I pick it up and I see over and over again how little I measure up.

Take the story of Joseph for example. Betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, yet in Egypt he remains faithful and steadfast, rising to the point of one day saving and forgiving the very brothers who betrayed him.

He was a sinner like me. Look at his radical trust in God. Why don’t I trust like Joseph? I’m such a lame Christian.

But maybe there’s a problem with how I’m trying to read my Bible.

Pastor and author Tim Keller says that there are two ways to read the Bible. One is to read it as a series of principles, a way to live life.

He says that as a young believer he’d read scripture just to ease his conscience: “It wasn’t because by the power of the Holy Spirit, as I was reading scripture, the work of Jesus Christ was being applied to the wounds and the inordinate loves of my heart and thereby healing me. That’s not what was happening. My conscience felt better.”

Devos done, good principles imbibed, check.

If we read the story of Joseph this way we conclude that the point of the story is that Joseph succeeds simply because of his great trust.

The story is simply pointing to itself and Joseph. Keller says when we read passages in this manner we see them as an end rather than a means to something more.

The result of this type of reading is that you “become smug and self-righteous or you’ll be absolutely crushed with despair.”

My tendency is toward despair.

But Keller offers a second way.

The turning point, Keller says, is when you see that scripture is the story of God. It’s not a rule book or a book of principles but the testimony of God’s work in and through sinful people. And this work always testifies to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Using the story of Joseph as an example, Keller says, “[In Jesus we find] a real Joseph who was sold and betrayed by the people who should have loved him. He brought about their redemption not just in spite of his suffering but through his suffering.”

“If Joseph is an example he’ll crush you. [But] if he’s pointing to Jesus Christ then there’s liberation.”

Reading scripture the second way is rejuvenating. We see the faithfulness of God in stark contrast to our stifling sinfulness. It keeps us from watering down passages so we can measure up to a principle. And it helps us see the entire Bible as telling one coherent story, the story of King Jesus.

As you do this, your Bible reading moves from a principle-based “What Would Jesus Do manual”, to a true story of all that Jesus did for you, and will do in and through you.

As you do this you’ll see that Scripture is much bigger than principles, and that you are a beloved character in God’s story of lavish grace and power for the world.