On Reading the Scriptures, Part 2

This is the second of a two-post series.  You can read the first part here.

I want to tell my friend who feels overwhelmed by reading the Bible 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.

© Copyright Renjishino1 and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Renjishino1 and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

How can I bear to think of anyone out in this fray, sword-less and without a shield? Not only is faith undercut, but souls starve and shrink.  This is not a new idea, this concept of the very words of God being food for our souls.  The Bible as sustenance resounds through the pages: bread, wine, milk, meat, manna.

The Old Testament story of manna is easily recognizable, the star player in many children’s Sunday school lessons.  God’s people, slaves in Egypt, are miraculously delivered from their oppressors.  Perhaps the familiarity of the story robs us of its drama, but this is no ordinary coup.

Millions of Israelites, slaves no less, the group least likely to overthrow mighty Egypt, walk free from bondage, and, what’s more, their captors shower them with gifts and jewelry as they go.  This ragtag group of slaves literally plunders the Egyptians, the most powerful empire on earth at the time, and their freedom is marked with blockbuster effects: gruesome plagues that fall only on the Egyptians, a vast sea rolled back so God’s people may cross through on dry land, the defeat of Pharaoh’s pursuing army without the Israelites having to fight at all, a towering pillar of flame and a swirling cloud to guide them as they journey to their new land.

We think of the PG version of this story, the one we insist on putting in children’s Bibles, when in fact it is a dramatic jaw-dropping, heart-stopping, account of the unlikeliest of endings, where the weak are rescued from evil, and God’s power triumphs over injustice. 

The Israelites live this victory.  They see firsthand the miraculous deliverance of God, and yet their next scene is one of paralyzing fear.  “Why did you bring us here to die?” they wail.  The joy in their newfound freedom evaporates as they notice the desert around them, and their stomachs growl with hunger.

Their terror so consumes them that slavery looks better than freedom, oppression than the promise of a future.  “We wish we would have stayed in Egypt,” they lament.

And God, being rich in mercy and in spite of their faithless despair, provides food for them.  Manna from heaven rains down, perfectly fulfilling their need for nourishment, a daily miracle that sustains them for the forty years they wander in the desert.  The people are to collect the food every morning, just enough for the day.

Hoard it, and they will find a pile of rotting maggots.  Neglect to gather, and they will go hungry.

This picture of God’s provision puts me in mind of Christ himself, the bread of heaven who gives life to the world, and a parallel scene where Jesus is wandering in the desert, hungry though unafraid.

“Make yourself food,” the devil tempts him.  “Turn these stones into bread.”  And Jesus’ response?

© Copyright nheyob and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright nheyob and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

“Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Bread.  Wine.  Milk.  Meat.  Manna.  The Word of God that satisfies all our need.  Christ, as we encounter him as the living bread.  Christ, as we encounter him on the pages of Scripture.  Words breathed out by God and useful to his people, nourishing and equipping them to do the work he has given us to do.  Must we, like the Israelites despair in our faithlessness, determined to return to whatever life we once held?

Or will we in truth see the poverty of our own hearts and come feast on the Scriptures:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.  Incline your ear and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…

The warrior with her sword and the slave-set-free hungry for bread.  These are the metaphors I give my friend.

It’s not that we ought to read the Bible or really should find the time.  It’s that we perish without the life-giving Word.  We starve in the desert unless God himself gives us food for the day.  We melt with fear on the battlefield unless his grace strengthens our arms for war.

This is no moment of indecision, where we can waffle in the seeming ease of our surroundings and have the luxury to indulge in biblical illiteracy.

The reality of our need compels us to run to him.  To open our hands wide to receive the spiritual food he rains down on us.  To take up the sword that is given us, figure out whatever it is that keeps us from training with it, and ask that God would strengthen our wills to choose the good.

I commit to pray for my friend.  She is taking her first tentative step, following God into the desert, and her initial question echoes in my mind – “Where do I even begin?” – stirring my soul with the layers of meaning in this phrase: the Word of God.

The spoken Word of God creating the universe.  The written Word breathed out of His mouth.  The living Word come down from heaven.  My heart beats with the theme.  The Word made flesh.  The Word we have seen and heard and tasted.  The Word that was with him in the beginning.  The living and active Word.  The Word who nourishes our souls.  The Word who clothes us with strength for battle.  The Word in whom all things have their being. Everywhere this Word.

© Copyright Piotr Frydecki and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Piotr Frydecki and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

“Begin with the Gospels,” I tell my friend who is starving for Bread.  “Begin with Christ.”

On Reading the Scriptures, Part 1

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?

© Copyright Renjishino1 and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Renjishino1 and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

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 hopeI, 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.

© Copyright Dirk Beyer and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Dirk Beyer and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

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.

© Copyright Michael Saludo  and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Michael Saludo and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

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.

Continue reading Part 2 here.

 

Welcome

Thank you for visiting. I am a fellow pilgrim, a lover of words, one whose heart had been struck by the Word of the living God. I love him. I trust that his perfect love for me is daily triumphing over my fears: fear of the unknown, fear of all the ugly scars of pain and grief, fear of death and dying, and I look to him to defeat the plague of fear and replace it with newness of life.

My words, prayers and reflections here are offerings of courage, a discipline that helps me take heart and strengthens my will to choose the good. I offer them to you in the hopes that together we might give each courage along the way.

May the Lord ever satisfy you with his Word.

Courage+
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