Who Reads Who?

As I grow in this salvation which I do not deserve, I am struck again and again by how some of my most basic, fundamental, assumptions have not always proven to be true.

As a pastor, the greatest mistake I believe I have ever made was the mistake of using the Bible as if it was simply a tool; a resource for “doing the ministry.”  “Take two Bible verses and call me in the morning” is NOT Christian counseling.  Throwing a proof-text at someone who needs one, who has a question, has a crisis, does not necessarily solve their issue.  The Bible is not a collection of verses for various situations in life.  It is the ongoing story of the grace of God in history AND in the present while looking to the future consummation of all things.  This “story” is not to be understood the way many today understand the term, as simply a synonym for “fiction.”  It is God’s story and one of it’s most salutary characteristics is how it draws us into that story.

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting much in my blog in recent months is because I have been spending more time, more necessary time,reading the Scriptures again.  In some cases, I listen to them through the audio feature on my handy-dandy Bible app on my iPad.  In some cases, I simply read (especially the Bible narratives).  In all cases, I have been trying to empty my mind of present concerns so as not to read my particular concerns into a text.  I am trying to let it work the other way around.  I may be reading the Scriptures, but in truth, they are reading me.  They are telling me what I need to hear and my “silence of the soul” is a great help in regard.  As God’s story has its way with me, I find that there are answers to the present concerns of life.  It’s just that those concerns aren’t the factor driving me to the Scriptures.  The Scriptures are, in their own enjoyable way, driving me back to those concerns and offering real peace.

You can study the Bible as if it was so much data.  Lutherans, (if I may humbly engage in a little gentle admonition), are often quite guilty of this.  We’re not saved by how well we’re going to do in a Bible Trivia contest.  It’s good to “know the Bible,” but it’s even better to have a Word which continues to instruct, a Word we continue to hear.  The risk of “knowing the Bible” is the risk of using it for self-validation.  The sinner in me doesn’t need such validation.  It needs God to look at me through the Word, to show me who I am through His Word, to read me like a text, and then show me a Jesus who speaks to me where I am.

I don’t write the above as I have seen some do, in order to suggest the Bible is irrelevant to modern life and historically-bound.  The historical context of Scripture is extremely important to understanding the world I am called to serve in.  The problem is not that the 1st c. Palestine of the Gospels is so different from today.  The problem is that many don’t see how similar that period is to today.  When the Word reads you, it reveals itself as relevant to every age.

And so, in last Sunday’s Gospel, as I simply struggled to read a text without all my life concerns up front, I ran across a character who I believe is my doppelganger.  Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was well trained in the Scriptures, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish Ruling Council.  But he’s not angrily against Jesus.  He’s hearing something different in Jesus and is there to learn more.  He’s trying to “read Jesus.”  But the beauty of John 3 is that Jesus reads Nicodemus.  And in reading Nicodemus so well, Jesus is able to give him a whole new look at God.  For God so loved the world…

A God of love.  One who is all about saving us.  A Pharisee would have found that controversial, but not Nicodemus.  Quietly, indeed secretly, Nicodemus must have continued to follow Jesus, as he is the one who donates the myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ dead body.  While there are still many shades of gray on this Nicodemus character, I have to wonder as I read.  How did Nicodemus hear the news, three days later, that Jesus was risen?  Had he, at Jesus’ death, seen the God of love Jesus told him about in John 3:16?

We’ll never know, but that shouldn’t stop us from letting the text continue to read us.  I think Nicodemus left Jesus in John 3 surprised by Him.  When the text reads us, “surprise” is the word that best sums up what happens.  The Word of God is not a “tool” as so many well-meaning, but poorly informed, Christians want to make it.  It is a story.  It’s God’s story and He’s drawing you into it.  His Word is not yours to manipulate.  Rather, You are His to guide and steer through the Word.

So I’m starting to wonder if “Bible Study” is what we really ought to be doing in the Church.  If I go into the Scriptures looking for an answer to a question, it’s rarely a satisfying activity.  But when God reads me?  Well, that’s just the best thing in all the world.  It’s a great surprise.  A surprise too great for words.

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