Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dissecting God? Or the Monty Python Approach to Bible Study

If you have ever tried to study the Bible you have probably found that reading the Book doesn’t always offer immediate answers to all that ails you. I know many Christians who have become discouraged trying to glean and understand the truth as it applies to their lives. And too often many of us Christians have been guilty of prescribing Bible study as a magic cure all. We prescribe the correct dosage of verses while ignoring that sometimes simply reading the book is not enough. But if we are honest I think there are times when all of us have looked at this book and wondered what we were missing. It is as if someone forgot to give us our secret decoder ringer, because nothing seems to apply to our particular circumstance.

So how do we avoid this feeling? How do we get the most out of this book that is to be central to our lives? How do we steer clear of the guilt we sometimes feel when our daily Bible studies seem dry and pointless? Is it us? Are we too dense? Flat out stupid?

First off, don’t sweat it. All of us have been there, and if we say we find wonderful revelations that speak directly to our souls each time we open the word – well, we’re lying. There are going to be days when the Bible seems like any other book, it isn’t but it can sure seem that way sometimes. If we aren’t careful that sense of not “getting it” will send us into a spiral of guilt and self condemnation that we make us avoid our Bibles up.

Second, let me offer you a few tools that most Christians don’t utilize. The first one is a method of Bible study used in the rabbinic schools. Many rabbis taught that the Bible should not be studied alone, and they established a method of study where the Bible was studied in pairs. The verses were read and then discussed. There is something that happens in talking it out. The words become more than a story, more than something that happened thousands of years ago, and the truths of the scriptures are come alive. It isn’t some magical process. It is how we are wired as human beings.

Stop for a second and think about your favorite movie. You probably saw it with someone you care about, you probably discussed it with your friends, and even spontaneously quote random lines from it. Something as common as a movie takes on a new significance if you share it with someone. Even movies you may not particularly enjoy watching become memorable if you share it with the right people – think Monty Python.

So buddy up. Find someone to talk about the Bible. Get their perspective, share yours, and search out the answers for any questions you might have. I am not advocating doing away with all individual study of the Bible, but there is strength in numbers, use it.

The second method is imaginative reading. Don’t just blow threw a passage. Stop and really think about what if it were you standing at the base of Mount Sinai, confronted by the lions, or watching the locusts swarm across the Egyptian sky? Put yourself in the scene, and not as someone who knows the end of the story. Really think about how you feel if you were experiencing that event.

Set the stage in your mind with as much vivid detail as you can. Find some pictures of the land, some recreations of homes, caravans, and market places. Feel the sand in the wind as the breath of God divided the waters of the Red Sea, hear the pounding hooves of Pharaoh’s army swooping in behind you, clutch your trembling child in your arms, and wonder if you will survive this moment. Experience the fear, the loss of your home, the terrible unknown before you, and be there.

The rabbis taught that by experiencing the emotions of a Biblical moment you were preparing your heart to meet the challenges of your life. If you could see yourself as present in a Biblical event and think of how you would have reacted than you would be better prepared to live out your faith in this time. I mean after all once you live through the conquest of Canaan suddenly rush hour doesn’t seem so bad.

The point is you have to take the time to think about what you are reading it. If you are just plowing through it because it is the right thing to do, it is going to become meaningless pretty quick. We aren’t engaging in relationship, we are being superstitious, and we are missing the whole point.

In our goal driven society these approaches feel rather strange at first – like we goofing off or day dreaming when we should be studying. Well, here’s the good news, God is not a geometry problem we have to figure out. The test is not going to be whether or not you can work the formula. It is going to be over whether or not you have a relationship with Him, and in relationship we have the opportunity to know someone, not dissect them.

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