(This piece was originally posted in October 2011)
How do you read the Bible? How we approach the scriptures is affected by a number of factors, such as our church background, our upbringing, even our personality.
To some of us the Holy Scriptures are rather like a huge catalog of treats. We seldom start at one end of the book and work through rather we pick and choose the bits we find appealing - although if you use a daily lectionary you are disciplined into trying a little bit of everything.
For others of us the Bible is more like an instruction manual. Some of us feel the need to read a manual from cover to end before we even began assembling something, others only turn to it when the flat-pick wardrobe of life is looking wonky.
For others of us the Bible is like a long reference work, it is full of verse numbers after all. Perhaps we have a verse for every circumstance in life without ever quite getting a hold of the context.
For others of us the Bible is a short story book, full of mysterious and wondrous tales of faith – we may know the popular ones, but tend to skip the sections without a good narrative or a happy ending.
For some the Scriptures are a book of Worship, Psalms, Songs and canticles, wonderful liturgies, but not often used outside the confines of built sacred space.
How should we approach the bible? Is there a right way or a wrong way? There is value in all the approaches described, although each has its pitfalls and problems. By combining a little of each we find balance and depth of meaning, allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us through the pages that the Spirit inspired. Yet perhaps we can be shown a more excellent way?
Recently we ran a course called Bible Basics. Right at the beginning of the course the old acronym for the Bible ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth’ was explored. But the course suggested a better way of understanding the scripture. It is St. Paul writing to the Corinthians who first offered us a more excellent way of being. “And now abides faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
The Bible is a book of Faith, how we should believe and trust in God, the Bible is a book of Hope, carrying us beyond the troubles and tribulations of our earthly life, looking towards an eternal Glory. But greater than that the bible is a book of Love.
Not just a worship book, a story book, a reference work, an instruction book or a catalog, but a book of love penned through the Spirit and human authors, by God as a love letter to us.
As the course had it not ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth’, but rather ‘Blessed Intimacy Begets life Everlasting’.
There is something about the way we read a love letter. We don’t tend to go through it with a pen highlighting the best bits; we don’t seek hidden subtexts codes or knowledge. We don’t read it in a way to condemn others, the author or even ourselves. Rather we open our hearts and submerge ourselves in the words, imagining the closeness and feeling of the one who wrote it to us. And this is how we should read to read the scriptures.
Not that we should abandon textual criticism, ignore context, mistake true myth and parable for history or science, but that first we seek God’s love and read as those in love with Him. Yes, love sometimes hurts, some of the bible is hard, and God’s love is greater and more mysterious than our own - it burns with a purity that can be hell to those that reject it. But it is the greatest of all things we can speak of or know.
So let us come to Holy Scriptures again, with hearts open, submerging ourselves in the beauty and truth found within the word of God, knowing that through the Spirit Christ is with us and we are his bride, his true love.