“I am going through another spell of finding it difficult to read the Bible. I never know quite what to make of it. I don’t feel guilty at all about it and I know it won’t be long before I return to it again with renewed zest. . . True, there is always a danger of indolence, but it would be wrong to get fussed about it. Far better to trust that after wobbling a bit the compass will come to rest in the right direction.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quoted in Opening the Bible, by Thomas Merton
I was talking to a friend about my book project, and letting go of a sense of obligation about the Bible.
She gets it; she’s had her own ups and downs with faith.
But she wondered, “But is it really a good idea to give people permission to not read the Bible? What if they let themselves off the hook?”
That, my friends, is a very good question.
And my question back to her was: which would we rather have?
- A person who doesn’t read the Bible, but is praying to be given a new heart for the Word? Who asks God to open new avenues of connection to Him?
- Or a person who reads it daily, without fail, with a sense of duty? Who checks the scripture verses off of their to-do list? A person who feels trapped by the Bible, and reads it out of fear, feeling shame when they don’t have the “right” attitude?
Reading the Bible is great. Lovely.
But unless we are radically submitted to God, anything can be an idol. Including Scripture.
Is reading the Bible every day what brings the Spirit into our lives? Or is it over and over dying to ourselves, our sin, our idolatry, our religious systems, our conception of what God wants from us?
We need to know that God is God, and the Bible, however important, is no substitute for the Word Himself. We need to know all that as we open Scripture.
I honor those who are able to read the Bible daily, joyfully, who have found daily practices that are submitted to God and are life-giving.
But I don’t think we should aspire to read the Bible regularly.
No, I think we should aspire to complete vulnerability to God. And I think sometimes that looks like setting the Bible aside.
Because if we’re aspiring to Bible reading, if regular time in the Bible is our goal, then we’re making an idol out of the Good Book.
And if we’re worried about giving people permission to stop reading the Bible—if we think they need OUR permission to read it or not–we’re usurping God’s authority. We’re deciding ahead of time how God might lead our brothers and sisters to become fully devoted to him.
It’s worth noting that the ability to read the Bible every day is a recent occurrence. Christians didn’t have a canon for hundreds of years after Christ. Then, ordinary people couldn’t read, didn’t have a translation, and owning a personal copy of a Bible in any language was out of reach. If you were a woman, or a slave, daily personal Bible reading is even more recent.
Are we really going to privilege this one way of connecting with God as if there’s no other method? Can we celebrate our incredible access to the Bible, while still acknowledging that it is not the end-all, be-all of spiritual practices? Can we learn from the generations of faithful believers that heard the Bible in church, prayed the Bible in liturgy, saw the Bible in art, memorized through song, in oral storytelling and in Passion plays?
Can we have a spirit of freedom, submission, and openness when it comes to the Bible, instead of a spirit of dull obligation?
What do you think? Is it dangerous to give people permission to not read the Bible? Does anyone else feel nervous saying this stuff out loud? Share in the comments.
Image credit: Ryan Wiedmeier