How do you read the Bible?
That question has a range of answers from the simple, “You open the book and read the words on the pages,” to the complex, “You need to understand the culture surrounding the events and you need to understand the form of literature that you are reading.”
Actually both are accurate and fair answers to that question. But I want to frame it slightly differently.
Do you read the Bible searching for answers to life’s problems and complexities? Or do you read it looking for wisdom to help you work out how to approach life’s problems and complexities?
It may seem like an esoteric exercise in semantics (and tricky words) to pose the question that way, but I think the answer is important because it affects how we approach life.
I have a book on my bookshelf titled “The Answer’s in the Bible.” It was published in 1978, and I have had it since I was a teenager.
And I think for a lot of my life, that’s how I have approached the Bible – looking for answers. I have looked to find out what the Bible says about issues that I face.
Sometimes, I admit, I have even naively used it to justify my own actions by taking some verses out of context as an answer.
For example, you could use Matthew 25:27 as an argument to save money in a bank and not give it away, but that’s not what the parable is about.
But the Bible doesn’t have direct answers for a lot of the questions we might ask today because those things could not have been anticipated in the days in which it was written.
It does not have anything to say directly about the Internet, computers, cars, airplanes, television, space exploration and so much more that we take for granted in our 21st century cultures and lifestyles.
And the Bible’s silence on some issues causes us problems if we are just looking for answers on what to do when.
Yet, I believe that the Bible gives us access to God’s wisdom, which enables us to work out what to do and how to approach life’s problems and complexities.
The wisdom of God is contained throughout the pages of the Bible. But there are two overarching themes throughout the Bible – God’s love and justice. And they are at the heart of his wisdom.
They trump anything else. And if love and justice seem to be in conflict, then love wins every time in the form of grace and mercy.
If you want the ultimate example of it, you find it in what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection: God’s love and justice are both involved, but love wins even as he dies. The resurrection proves it!
So if you decide to look for biblical wisdom rather than answers, what does the Bible say about the Internet and computers, for example? Nothing directly, as I have said.
But it talks (from a starting point of being loving and just) about being honest, not gossiping, not lusting, not expressing hatred for others, good administration and a lot more. That wisdom can shape good use.
And the great thing about seeking godly wisdom from the Bible rather than just answers is that the wisdom crosses boundaries of time, culture, geography, ethnicity and any of the other things that can make it difficult for us to apply those words to our lives today.
The Bible is not a rule book to be followed or an instruction manual to help us maintain our lives.
It is God’s wisdom expressed as love and justice seen through his interaction with humanity (especially seen in Jesus where the two are combined wonderfully).
So how do you read the Bible? Searching for answers or looking for wisdom?
The latter is the more constructive approach for engaging life’s many complexities.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.
Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom.