I looked up “scuba diving” on Wikipedia recently. Who knew that the history of underwater breathing and underwater vision was so riveting? (Get it? Boats, rivets … Nevermind.) Anyway, I learned, among other things, that people with nearsighted vision see better underwater than people with “normal” vision. It basically has to do with the way light is refracted in water as opposed to air. Needless to say, it was an enlightening article.
One could say that the bible is a giant narrative about breath and vision. Yet, for so many, interacting with the bible regularly, while an intriguing thought or a deep aspiration, simply isn’t realistic. There’s not enough time in the day. The text seems inaccessible and irrelevant. Many of the stories are far-fetched. Some are even offensive. People use the words to do harm instead of good. YES. Yes to all of that.
Yet, even with the “begats” and bloody battles (biblical and worldly), the bible can still be our primary source of light and oxygen. But, our relationship with the scriptures has to change.
Our interaction with God’s word has been too superficial and passive. On the one hand, we go to the bible for answers like we go to Wikipedia for information about … scuba diving?! We look up words in a concordance or on Google in order to see what the bible has to say about “sin” or “sex” or “salvation.” We find what we like and avoid what we don’t like. Then, we make a list. The bible says, ‘Thou shalt not…” The bible says, ‘Thou shalt…”
On the other hand, we become like machines in our relationship with scripture. We let media, politicians, pastors, friends and enemies give us our only perceptions about God’s word. Then we simply regurgitate the data inputs. We neglect wrestling with the text ourselves. We don’t invite the Holy Spirit to guide us in an experience with scripture.
In both cases, the bible becomes a dead organism from a lifeless god.
If the bible is to become holy, we have to interact with it in a similar way in which it was written. First, we have to ask God’s Spirit to be with us when we read and listen to the text … and after we read and listen. If God isn’t with us in our interactions with scripture, then the bible is just another book. Second, we need to read and apply scripture in the midst of particular lives and experiences. After all, that’s the context out of which it came. And finally, we have to learn to appreciate the whole narrative rather than picking out a few verses out of context. I don’t mean that we should all read a book of the bible a day, but maybe we could read a chapter a day from the same book. Then, we might see some of our favorite verses coming to life as part of a larger story.
One of my favorites comes from Hebrews. “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4.12, NRSV). A discussion about sabbath and rest precedes this verse, which tells me that there is a strong relationship between immersing oneself in scripture and entering into God’s rest.
In the end, our prideful, human struggle will always involve obsessions with making rules and breaking them. We’ll come up with legalistic codes of righteousness and avoid inspired moments of love. We’ll shout out words like “sin” and “grace” without finding ourselves squarely in the realm of both. In the midst of that struggle, we need to go deep into these scriptures — where there are unbelievable tales of disaster and improbable episodes of deliverance. We need to immerse ourselves. To emerge and gasp for air. With a vision of God’s kingdom.