On reading the Bible and conversation.

Huw Williams | 11:07, Monday 02 May 2016 | Turin, Italy

There are many parts of the Bible that I don't understand. As someone who spends most of his time teaching the Bible in some way or other, perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that, but I'm not all that inclined to be ashamed as such.

reading the Bible ... an invitation from God to conversation

I am reminded of my friend Ron, who is almost certainly the most passionate Bible-reader I know; when Ron talks about reading the Bible it is intriguing to see how often the language of ‘conversation’ comes up. This is one of the many things I have learned from him, that reading the Bible need not be an activity in ‘information download’, a one-sided monologue, but rather an invitation from God to conversation. If we read the Bible with the ‘information download’ approach, we will be tempted to consider a read through any of those places we don't understand as a waste of time, since we have not understood the ‘code’ coming to us. However, if we approach our Bible reading as conversation, there is naturally something far more relational going on.

Please don't misunderstand me, I am not advocating some kind of fluid, subjective meaning in scripture - there is meaning in this text, eternal, beautiful and unchanging. Neither am I against the endeavour to understand it - far from it! We are all to be students of God's word, and we do well to apply ourselves to understanding what we read. It's just that for the moment and for the foreseeable future, there’s also the fact that I'm not wise, mature, experienced or godly enough enough to understand every last verse of the scriptures. And so what do I do when I hit the book of Numbers? Skip it? Yawn my way through it? Or something else?

I have been learning to read my Bible a little more prayerfully, conversationally if you will ("Lord, what is this genealogy all about?", "Father, I'm struggling! - what is Leviticus all about?") Sometimes I have a light-bulb moment ("Aha!"), sometimes not - but that's OK - maybe a penny will drop next time. Let's keep reading and let’s keep talking about it.

These thoughts have been in my mind in our church Bible studies over the last few weeks, as we've been working through the series of meetings between Jesus and individuals in John 3 to 5. It's fascinating to see how enigmatic Jesus' conversation-starters seem to be in these encounters. Look at them! - could these people possibly be expected to understand statements like, "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again" (3:3), "If you knew the gift of God and who it was who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (4:10), "Unless you people see signs and wonders... you will never believe." (4:48 - to a man with a son on his deathbed) and "Do you want to get well?" (5:6 - to a man who had been an invalid for 38 years?)

... on each occasion the intriguing statement is surely an invitation to continue the conversation

We've wrestled with what is going here in our studies. Is Jesus being deliberately obscure? Obtuse even? No, but on each occasion the intriguing statement is surely an invitation to continue the conversation, to invite him to explain himself, to ask questions, to get to know him, to deepen this fledgling relationship. The results differ greatly - Nicodemus continues the conversation but takes more time before coming to belief, the woman is drawn to Christ almost immediately and concludes that this is the man who told her everything she ever did. The royal official is beside himself with worry for his dying child, but after the miracle takes place, his reflections lead to belief. The man at the pool appears to have little interest in continuing the conversation at all - even second time around he seems to be in a hurry to get away, though Jesus has been looking for him to further the conversation. 

So maybe it shouldn't surprise us that there are still parts of God's word that remain something of a mystery to us. I am convinced that this is part of what it means to get to know God in His word, to be drawn in, to continue the conversation, to accept the invitation to sit at His feet without hurrying away at the sight of the first genealogy. As we do so, prayerfully and with the Spirit's help, we find that in that conversation we get to know Him better, not just about Him.

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