What to Do When the Bible Makes You Squirm
“Why do you read the Bible?”
I stared at the computer screen at Erin’s question, overwhelmed. My mind bubbled with answers.
At first I wanted to write the bottom line, simple and straightforward: I read it because God is beautiful, and the Bible is His self-revelation. I read it because God is all-worthy of all worship. Because I want to know Christ. Because His words are LIFE. All this is true—and big picture.
I want to talk with you about some of the squirmy little-picture things you’ll run into as you read the Bible through the year. When Erin said “the Bible,” she didn’t mean “the parts of the Bible you like.” She meant Genesis to Revelation. I want to share why I still read the Bible when it gets hard, troubling, nasty, confusing, and crazy.
Yes, I said crazy. God isn’t crazy, but some of the stuff in the Bible is wild.
Have you ever read through Leviticus? Numbers? How about the minor prophets? If you’ve ever perused Genesis to Revelation, you know about a few stories I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting on a felt board in Sunday school class.
Take Judah and Tamar, for instance. She dressed up like a prostitute to have sex with her father-in-law—say what? Or look at 2 Kings 2, when a group of forty-two boys were mauled to death by bears for calling the prophet Elisha “baldy.” Throughout the Old Testament, God wiped out entire people groups (not even sparing the babies), chapters are filled with dietary laws for the Israelites (lizards are “unclean,” just in case you wondered), and we learn what the Israelites were supposed to do when the women were having their periods. Lists of family genealogies abound, every square inch of the temple is described in meticulous detail—on and on. And it isn’t just the Old Testament, either. In Acts 12:23, for instance, King Herod gets eaten alive by worms on the spot because he accepted praise for himself instead of praising God.
Where is God’s beauty here?
Not so clear on the surface. Unsurprisingly, these unpopular aspects of the Bible don’t get much press. We react, “What on earth, God?”—send a hasty little prayer of confusion—then skate on (a little nervously) to the next chapter, hoping for something a little more applicable. Wince, skim, repeat.
If we come looking for a feel-good dish of comfort every time we open up the Scriptures, I’m afraid we’ll be disappointed. A devotional book may provide that. Not the Bible. In fact, I think it’s fair to go this far: if you feel comfortable every time you read the Bible, you’re doing it wrong.
I read the Bible to wrestle with God, because I want to know Him.
The stories we cringe about were not thrown in haphazardly; there were no “oops” moments when 2 Kings and Leviticus were being put together. When I arrive at a squirmy passage, I want to wrestle with it. God put it there. He wanted me to read it.
So we press the hard passages up against other passages, seeking to let Scripture interpret Scripture. We pray, confessing how we’re feeling. If I’m horrified, I tell Him. Then I ask Him to shape and inform my emotions. I ask Him to show me what He wants to show me about who He is, what He was doing, and why He was doing it.
Why be bothered?
Without the Bible, I’d have no way to know Yahweh. I don’t want to worship a God I’ve made up, ignoring all but my favorite passages. I want to worship in spirit and truth. I want to know Him. To know Him, I have to listen to the fullness of His self-revelation. The more we know Him, the more our wonder and love will expand. The more we know Him, the more we will worship.
So bring the awkward questions. I want to dig for answers, and I want to look for context clues. I want to find out what God is communicating about His nature, and I want to see how the confusing parts fit in with God’s larger themes.
I read the Bible because it is ONE unfolding story told through many different authors, genres, books, and time periods.
If the Bible was simply a patchwork quilt of moralistic stories about a tribal deity, I would have very mild interest in it. Some curiosity, perhaps . . . but nothing more. I would never read it on a daily basis, study it, and imagine I could actually come to know God more intimately in the process.
But praise God—the wild stories I referenced above are not disjointed vignettes. Each portion of the Bible is a part of God’s larger narrative. As seekers of the King, it’s our responsibility (and privilege!) to endeavor to see this broader work of God. We will never understand all God’s purposes fully, but we can know this with confidence: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
So what does Obadiah have to do with salvation? How does God’s glory and love permeate the whole of the Bible? What insights can we gain about the heart of God by looking at Jonah? What can we learn from the failures of the Israelites? Where can we see foreshadowing of the salvation to come, through Christ?
It doesn’t matter if you were raised in the church or if you have as many degrees in theology as you have fingers and toes. There is no danger in becoming over-familiar with the Bible. Understanding how it tells one story of God’s glory, covenant love, and salvation—and seeking to understand the infinite God who designed it—is a process we will be able to enjoy for the rest of our lives. The depths are endless.
I read the Bible because He’s worth it—even through the sticky and uncomfortable parts. Perhaps—especially through those.
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