Stephen Gibbins equips us with some arsenal we can use against the enemy’s propaganda deterring us from Bible reading.
Why bother reading the Bible?
If you asked the question “How are you going at reading the Bible?” to any Christian small group, which of the following responses are you most likely to receive? “Good”, “I could read it more”, “I should read it more” or “Non-existent”?
My guess is the latter responses are more likely than the former. (At least that’s been my experience both as the person asking the question and the person being asked!) I take it that the Christian meeting in a small group has some commitment to knowing God through his word. But we Christians still find it hard to pick it up daily—if at all.
Why do we find Bible reading so hard? One reason is because we’re in a spiritual battle (Eph 6), and like in all battles, the enemy is desperate to disrupt our communication lines. With communications down, we’re isolated, and we lose track of the direction in which to advance, the weapons of the enemy and the resupply location, and soon enough, it’s over: we’re out of the fight. The Bible is one vital aspect of our “comms”, and the enemy is desperate for us not to have it.
One way our enemy achieves this objective is through propaganda. Here are three of the most common propaganda tools and ways to respond to them from those who have fought before us.
Propaganda tool #1: Why bother reading the Bible when it’s so unclear?
Many people look at the Bible with its two testaments, 66 books, 1,189 chapters and 31,102 verses and their eyes just glaze over. The enemy whispers in their ear, “Just look at this book! It’s contradictory, it’s got all these weird bits and it’s hard to understand. Don’t bother!” So they end up walking away from it.
In response, think of the Bible as being like a palace, with many rooms to be explored—a palace that is never inaccessible, not even to a child—a palace that is so majestic that no one could possibly ever get bored. Some rooms are easy to understand; some are more complex. If you don’t think you understand a particular room, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be in the palace. Move to the next room—perhaps a simpler one—and seek to understand it. Then come back to the more complex room aided by your understanding of the other rooms. Don’t lose heart if you don’t understand a particular room; there are many others that will equally tell you the story of the palace. As Augustine writes,
Accordingly the Holy Spirit has, with admirable wisdom and care for our welfare, so arranged the Holy Scriptures as by the plainer passages to satisfy our hunger, and by the more obscure to stimulate our appetite. For almost nothing is dug out of those obscure passages which may not be found set forth in the plainest language elsewhere. (De-doctrina-Christiana, II.6 )
Propaganda tool #2: Why bother reading the Bible when I can find out about God through creation?
Many people look for God in the world around them—in mountains, rivers and even the heavens above. God has indeed made himself known in his creation (Ps 19, Rom 1:20). The problem is, sinful man is so corrupt, we pick and choose what we see in creation to invent the God our hearts desire.
In response, think of the Bible as being like a pair of spectacles: when we read it, our vision of the world around us is corrected, and by the work of the Spirit, we are provided with a clear picture of who God is and what he is like. As John Calvin writes,
Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God. This, therefore, is a special gift, where God, to instruct the church, not merely uses mute teachers but also opens his own must hallowed lips. (Institutes of the Christian Religion I.vi.1)
Propaganda tool #3: Why bother reading the Bible yourself when you need others to tell you its true meaning anyway?
Many people believe that the Bible needs to be interpreted and that you need a so-called expert to tell you what it says. They look to preachers, theologians and church leaders to provide them with answers instead of doing the hard work of figuring things out for themselves.
In response, let me point out that if God wants to make himself known and if he’s chosen to do that through his word, he’s capable of doing that without the assistance of others. God is not a poor teacher: he doesn’t need his creatures to correct him (as if he misspoke), complement him (as if he’s forgotten to mention something) or cross out his words (as if he didn’t mean to say it). Instead, we can trust that God is capable of communicating with us without the qualifications of men. As Martin Luther writes,
And what is it that preachers do, to this very day? Do they interpret and expound the Scriptures? Yet if the Scripture they expound is uncertain, who can assure us that their exposition is certain? Another new exposition? And who will expound the exposition? At this rate we will go on forever. In short, if Scripture is obscure or ambiguous, what part is there in God’s giving it to us? (The Bondage of the Will, 93)
It’s a wonderful thing that we are not fighting this spiritual battle alone. Let’s continue to warn one another of the enemy’s propaganda, encourage one another with the truth, and do all that we can to keep fighting by reading God’s word as often as we can.