When was the last time you read a shocking passage of the Bible that took your breath away and required a flustered second read? Whilst some parts of Holy Scripture excite us to worship the awesome love and majesty of God, others trouble us and cause us to wrestle with quite confusing and weighty questions.
It’s important to spend time asking tough questions of tough texts, perhaps seeking help from others in the church as well as from commentaries and respected bible teachers. However, as with many others aspects of Christian discipleship, it is the attitudes of the heart that requires our first attention. Below are seven helpful principles to bear in mind whilst humbly and wisely searching ‘the deep things’ of God’s holy and mysterious word.
1. God is God and, even with all our education and life experience, we are not God. It sounds somewhat obvious, but we all need to be reminded at times. Check out what God said to Isaiah
2. Watch your heart for taking offense at God! We can all do this when a bible texts seems to confuse us or to not fit with our ‘idea’ of who God is. Even John the Baptist let himself fall into this when he sent messengers to Jesus to enquire if he really was ‘the one’. Jesus’ reply was to confirm that he was indeed, and furthermore he told John “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me." If we are bearing in mind the first principle, that “God is God and I am not”, then we should allow Him to define Himself and His ways in His own words.
3. “God is never less than all that he is” – this helpful maxim comes from D.A. Carson and is useful to bear in mind whilst reading tough texts. God’s character is flawless and without change, he is same yesterday today and forever, and therefore he is still the same God of Love and eternal Father of Jesus Christ in those tough texts and vice-a-versa. Don’t allow for one description of God’s actions and character to trump any other. God is never less than all that he is!
4. Allow the text to say exactly what it is says rather than trying to squeeze it into your expectations of God. Don’t apologise for it, don’t seek to explain it away, and certainly don’t ignore it, instead remember that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man [or woman] of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
5. Know that God is gracious with imperfect humanity and that parts of the Old Testament law are concessions for hard sinful hearts, whilst others are ceremonial laws that point to Jesus and are now fulfilled in Him. Also, God does not always approve of all the actions of biblical heroes (such as Samson or David!) but is gracious and slow to anger, working through their imperfections, and he needs not justify to us his choice of individuals.
6. Get a good grasp of the overarching story of the bible: the history of redemption. God’s character never changes, yet his dealings with humanity have taken a different shape at different points in history, i.e. before Abraham’s call, after the Laws of Moses, and presently under the New Covenant. These are glorious but complex themes to grasp, and yet doing so may explain those tough texts.
7. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand and see Jesus in the text. Then, whether you totally ‘get it’ or not, choose to worship God for the mystery of His ways, higher, purer and better than ours: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!” Amen!