What do you do when you get to a bit of the Bible you don’t understand? When a Bible passage makes you feel uncomfortable?
I know what I do: I tend to avoid those bits of the Bible. Sometimes I ignore particular verses, sometimes I try not to think about certain passages, sometimes I even keep away from whole books. It’s like a painful tooth; you learn to stop biting on it after a while.
The problem with ignoring a painful tooth, of course, is that the pain gets worse and starts eating away at you. When I ignore part of the Bible, it doesn’t ignore me. It bothers and bugs me, nudges and nags me, until it gets my attention. When I don’t want to examine part of the Bible, it’s time for the Bible to start examining me.
Which is why I found these words from John Piper and Phillip Jensen so challenging and helpful:
If you only read things after which you said “duh!” you’d stop reading in a hurry, because you already know and feel the way you should. But if you start bumping into things that are weird or strange, then you’d better live there. You’d better camp there until your brain and your heart get shaped by the strange things.1
I love puzzling over difficult parts of the Bible. I love it, for the difficulty is in my head, not on the page, and puzzling over these difficulties gives me an opportunity to change the way I think.2
When I find part of the Bible hard to accept, it’s not the Bible which needs to change, it’s me. If I come to part of the Bible I don’t like, I’ve learned to spend time there: to read it over and over, think about it, read about it, talk about it, or, best of all, teach it, until my attitudes shift and God’s word shapes me.
When I do this, something unexpected happens: the Bible passage I used to avoid becomes one of my favourites. It’s the hard parts of God’s word that expand my understanding of God, challenge me to more costly discipleship, and lead me into unanticipated joys. The difficult bits of the Bible open God to me, and open my life to God, in ways I could never have foreseen.
1 From the audio version of John Piper’s sermon Thinking and feeling with God: A broken and contrite heart God will not despise.
2 Phillip Jensen’s ‘Problems with the text’ from The Briefing #374.