All too often, we analyse our actions, our hearts and minds, but not the traditions handed down to us by the church. “Who am I to question the church leaders and centuries of theologians and tradition?” we could ask, humbly. So, we decide to trust them. We trust them because they have studied more than we have, because they seem to know all the answers whilst we’re still floundering with countless questions.
Perhaps we read the Bible to show us how to behave, how to become more holy, but we don’t often read it to learn more of the everlasting truths we profess to believe. I was like that for many, many years. Since I became a Christian at age 15 I developed a hunger for the Word and I would read it for many hours, honestly asking God to test my heart, to show me where I was sinning, and help me to become more like Christ. Every time I would read a passage I would ask God to show me how to apply it practically in my life.
I think this kind of Bible reading is beautiful and very important. However, there is also a place for more analytical Bible study, in which we read it to learn more about God’s character and scriptural doctrine. Although the kind of Bible reading that I carried out was extremely important for my own personal growth as a Christian, I feel that I sometimes fell into “narcissistic reading”; i.e. I read and I found MYSELF in every passage! Every blessing that God promised to the Israelites I took for myself. Every criticism I read of the “fool” in Proverbs I took to be a comment on my own character. I’m not saying that Christians can’t find encouragement or discipline in the Old Testament, but I think that all too often we read the Bible and our ego blinds us from analysing deeper truths.
I still read the Bible and ask God to use it to show me how I need to change and grow, but I also concentrate on learning more about HIM. Of His character, rather than my own. When I read of the Israelites and His never-ending patience and forgiveness towards them, I marvel at His mercy. I now spend longer over the more difficult passages that speak of His divine plan, His nature and what that passage tells me of certain doctrines that I’ve come to believe or doubt.
My husband once told me: “Read the Bible without doctrinal prejudice: open your heart and let it teach you”. I started to do that around eight years ago and I really feel that my analytical eyes have been opened. I now read, not only to apply behavioural teachings to my life, but also to UNDERSTAND.
And, of course, that process leads to a myriad of questions. “What does this passage really MEAN?” I frequently ask myself. And not content to let the question pass, I spend time investigating in the Bible, in prayer and in conversation with other Christians to help me to shed light on this issue. This is an active process and a very personal one. I do not accept that one human being, leader or religion will be able to answer all my questions. I am no longer willing to listen to an answer and accept it because it sounds nice or because I trust the person who is speaking to me. I have to become convinced in my own heart and mind after listening to their opinions and searching for myself in the Bible and after much prayer. And I try not to become “calcified” in my understanding of doctrine; my desire is to remain open-minded and reasonable. In fact, that is the definition of the word “disciple”, which means “learner”. How can I be a disciple if I have closed my mind to questioning and doubts and refuse to accept any other interpretation other than that which I have arrived at?
I encourage you to do the same: read, question, investigate. Rather than leading you away from God this process will bring you to your knees before Him.