It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.
A few weeks ago I read a post by Trevin Wax on the difficulty of the Bible which got me thinking. Growing up it was always implied that the Bible was a simple book, you just had to sit down and read a little bit of it and you would have access to God at the flip of a page. While that’s true on some level, on another level – the level that most people I talk to operate on – the Bible is a book that is intimidating, often hard to understand, and sometimes just overwhelming.
We’re used to novels, youtube videos, and commercial spots. Our brains are increasingly wired to operate in shallow pools, making connections between tidbits of information rather than digging deep into one field. Studies are showing that reading of scripture is consistently decreasing among Christians in the west. In 2013 the American Bible Society found that, “More than half (57%) of those ages 18-28 report reading the Bible less than three times a year or never.” Almost every Christian I talk to feels like they should read the Bible more and feels ashamed at how little they do it. At the same time we’re not even sure how to begin to climb the mountain of scriptural truth that is there.
The Bible is a hard book. I’m someone who is reading several books at any given time, and sometimes God’s Word seems overwhelming to me in its scope and depth. Don’t get me wrong. I delight in the Scriptures. As the Proverb at the beginning of this post says I believe that God has vast riches available to us. However, he has set it up so that we must “search things out” in order to find them. I think of my brothers and sisters who haven’t read a book other than what’s been assigned to them in school, and I want to encourage you in this – there is no shame in feeling like God’s word is sometimes hard. My goal in this post and the following ones is to inspire you to read God’s word with a fearsome passion, and I believe that one of the first things that needs to be set in place to empower you to do that is to admit at the outset that, on a human level, the Bible is a hard book. It’s not a sin to feel like Deuteronomy is difficult reading or be totally confused at what is going on in the book of Isaiah.
Why is the Bible a hard book? Here’s 7 reasons that I see for it;
1. It’s world is different than ours.
The stories of scripture (most of them) take place on this earth, yes, but the canon of scripture was closed within a couple generations of Jesus’ death and most of the old Testament is from thousands of years before that. The world of Genesis, Exodus, the prophets, and even Jesus and the apostle Paul is a world drastically different than ours. No electricity and no internet. Different languages and different cultures, all poured into one book. When we read scripture, even in our own language, we have to become translators who are able to take the the meaning of passages like the last few chapters in Deuteronomy that are filled with laws and rules about building the temple and translate their meaning into our world.
2. It doesn’t have a clear story line.
We’re used to novels and movies that have a clear narrative arc, where we follow a protagonist through the ups and downs to the ultimate conclusion. Scripture, at first glance, doesn’t have a clear story line. Characters come and go. Nations rise and fall. The scale of time is massive.Seeing the story arc of scripture is hard work if you’re coming to it on your own.
3. It covers a wide range of genres.
I know of very few people who enjoy reading history books, legal documents, poetry, narrative, and apocalyptic literature. I know plenty who enjoy one or two of those categories, but few indeed who enjoy them all. Scripture is composed of a vast array of genres, each one requiring a particular style of reading and interpretation.
4. It’s long. Really long.
Awhile ago I started reading Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. My copy clocks in at 1,001 pages. It’s the only book I own that beats my Bible for sheer length, and I put it on hold after 400 pages. The Bible is a long book. It takes a long time to read from cover to cover. That in and of itself makes it daunting.
5. It’s dense.
Parts of scripture are just all around dense reading. Leviticus and Deuteronomy are infamous for killing the high hopes of people who start on on a through-the-Bible-in-a-year journey. Revelation is a dense layering of images and allusions to the Old Testament books as well as cryptic prophetic declarations. Some sections of the Bible require serious heavy mental lifting to engage.
6. It tells you things you don’t want to hear.
Some subjects are more comfortable to just ignore, but scripture leaves almost no subject untouched. From brutal violence to sexual perversion to God’s seemingly inexplicable wrath towards nations other than Israel in the Old Testament, the Bible is in your face with things that you probably didn’t want to deal with
7. It’s bigger than you.
Most books and movies are things we can engage for a moment and then toss aside. We read the novel and move on with life. We watch the television show and when it’s done it’s done. But the Bible insists on over-reaching itself, digging in to bit of your life that other things don’t, and working on you. You don’t engage it. It engages you.
Seven reasons why the Bible is a hard book. In my next couple posts I’m going to lay out what I believe are some of the most compelling reasons to not let the surface-level difficulty of the Bible daunt you. We serve a good God who loves his people and wants them to know him intimately. He made us and He knows us. There’s a reason that He expressed so much of His identity and will in a written text. In the difficulty there is amazing good for us. But we’ll look at that next time.