This is Part 1 of a two-part series. You can read Part 2 here.
“Maybe the Bible isn’t for me,” my friend says straight out. “I went to a group study, and I gave up. It’s not that I didn’t want to answer the homework questions, it’s that I couldn’t.” She cups her hands in her lap, empty. “There were references to stories I’d never even heard of, and I didn’t understand any of it.” She gestures toward the Bible sitting open before me. “Where do I even begin?”
We are sitting in a circle with our folding chairs close together, a handful of women discussing resources for personal Bible reading, and I’m stopped short. I’ve come with my study aids and commentaries, a fat stack of tools to make the Scriptures more accessible, and I want to shove them all back in the bag. How does one begin?
It’s a difficult question, because the Bible is an inherently complex book, made more-so by the cultural gap of the generations. Who of us hasn’t determined to read right through this year and stuck fast in the Old Testament where we stumble over foreign rituals and genocide and they did what to the women?
Perhaps we shut the cover, ignoring the voice that says Good Christians ought to read the Bible in favor of the one that tells us the words are stale and irrelevant. Or maybe we eagerly embrace the Scriptures, scouring them for verses that please us, ones we copy down and prop up in pretty frames in our bathroom.
The apostle Paul teaches that whatever was written in former times was written for the church’s instruction, that through the endurance and encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. I, for one, need some hope, and not the pretty embellished cross-stitched kind. I want hope that will withstand the crushing responsibility of everyday life.
I struggle with the militant passages of the Bible. My cultural sensibility wants the peace sign stamped throughout the pages, a happy resolution where everyone gets along, so when I read Paul’s description of spiritual armor, I squirm.
Aren’t Christians just a little too willing to be soldiers at all the wrong times? But then I sit in my women’s group and hear stories of life-threatening illness. Of loss and death and the bitterness of grief. Of fear and worry and the uncertainty of the future. Of the tenuous economy and financial woes. Of children and marriages and childlessness and loneliness and the end of marriages.
I think of my own panic-filled moments and debilitating fears and the way I see them mirrored in the eyes of my children, and all of it is too much. The weight of the world is greater than we can bear, and we are bruised. Broken. Dying.
Like it or not, we live some militant passages.
I read Paul’s famous metaphor in Ephesians 6 and let the rich imagery soak into my soul. Righteousness covering my heart and its wayward desires. Salvation shielding my head, renewing my mind. The belt of truth providing the sure foundation to this spiritual clothing.
I think about this kind of armor that protects a person, armor that is simply worn. Paul’s soldier doesn’t activate the helmet or switch on the shoes. The Scripture teaches us that we are clothed in Christ and in his salvation, righteousness, truth, and peace. It is not something we do. It is someone we now are.
I wear my armor, because I am a Christian, but my mind’s eye reveals what my oft-felt defeat looks like: a woman clad in nicked and dented pieces, driven to my knees by crippling fear and the brokenness of a dying world. I am beat down, which is the exact opposite of Paul’s main imperative in the passage: stand firm.
The verses call me to faith. To holding my ground. To praying constantly. I read the passage again, and I linger on the offensive weapons we are given, the ones that we must intentionally wield, the kind of tools that require hours of training in order to use effectively, the only pieces of armor that must be activated with one’s will: the shield of faith, with which to extinguish the fiery onslaught of arrows, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Perhaps I find myself too often standing with my hands limp at my side, weapons dangling ineffectively while the battle rages around me.
Some days my arms feel so tired, and I can’t be bothered with the spiritual disciplines that will train my body to fight. And, if I’m honest, there are moments when I’m afraid of the sharp blade that might cut down deep, piercing through joints and marrow, to my very own soul.
How can I live with victory in the midst of this broken and battle-tossed world when I’ve neglected my sword and my shield?
I see once again the poverty of my own heart, my desperate need for the grace of the Lord, my utter dependence on his living Word for even one moment of faith-filled life, and I cry out for help.
I want to share this metaphor with my friend who feels overwhelmed by reading the Bible. I want to remind her of the truth of the matter: Scripture is not really optional, something that she might or might not want to read. Scripture is something she desperately needs. How can I bear to think of anyone out in this fray, sword-less and without a shield?
How can we bear to set aside the weapons God has given us? To tell ourselves it’s really not that important? In our hard moments, we can’t lie to ourselves anymore. I know you know what I’m talking about. That addiction you just can’t shake? That deep wound that nothing can soothe? That worry that hounds you in the small hours? The constant driving fear that you might not do enough? Be enough? Have enough?
You, Child of God, already know that you are in a dire-straights life-and-death battle. Now start living like it. Go find your sword.