My recent call for sermon topics brought a couple of questions about how to read or interpret the bible. It’s essential reading for us, but in practice it can be very hard to understand, or downright misleading if not interpreted deeply and fully. How do we reconcile the contradictions, the conflicting reports, the portrayal of God that swings from vengeful to unconditional love and everything in between? I have two suggestions.
First, try viewing the bible as reading someone’s diary rather than a historical textbook. A diary is filled with truth, but it is limited by the experience, knowledge, biases, and emotions of the writer. A diary is absolutely true but not necessarily objectively and factually true. Reading someone’s diary will give you insights into their lives that a biography or history text can never give. One day God seems like your best friend and the next day God feels distant and cold. My diary reveals what I have experienced. Your diary might be different. Applying our literal-factual, proof-based lens to the bible turns it into something it was never meant to be. Let it be what it is – a love song, a poem, a diary – intimate, personal, human.
My other suggestion is not to read your bible alone. Discuss it with a friend. Ask me questions as they arise. Or better yet, participate in The Porch (our weekly bible study in-person Monday mornings or on Facebook) or attend a program calendar offering. Jesus said, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among them!” So gather!
So, when it comes to the bible, don’t think of it as a textbook and don’t tackle it alone. That won’t solve all your challenges, but it may keep you reading!