What if The Good book was A good book?

So many peoples’ lives, and too much of my life are spent joyless. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is an abundant life available to us.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

Pride in Futility

We live in a weird world where it is a meme to be proud of one’s lack of discipline or bad habits. In high school I had my fair share of all-night Netflix binges. They felt awful. I felt like an addict who just ‘had to finish one more’. If I were to describe the feeling following one of these masochistic forays, it would be futility. It’s devastating and shameful. Yet in a truly devilish ploy, this is laughed at in popular culture. These behavioral patterns which rejoice in slothfulness can be seen from a young age in the reluctance and pride of children when they avoid chores. Later on in school it manifests itself in not reading the book for English class. In retrospect, I really did cheat my adolescent self when doing this. As a consequence of proudly evading monumental works of literature, I delayed the development of a regular reading habit, one I am steadily struggling to inculcate as an adult.

Those were good books I didn’t read: Crime and Punishment, Life of Pi, Death of a Salesman, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. (Mrs. Gill, this is my confession.) A habit of reading can have immense value. Compare this recalcitrant posture to the elementary aged Matthew, ravaging Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, or The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter. These works of fiction can enthrall young minds and fill imaginations with discovery as youth engross themselves in the narratives of the misunderstood and underestimated protagonist who must take on the world. There is adventure to be had. (For a broader exposition on this, may I commend chapter 12 of Douglas Wilson’s Future Men.)

Those were good books. I carried them everywhere I went. I got sick from reading them in the car. I got disapproving looks from teachers for having them out in class. My parents made me put them away at meal times. I stayed up way too late with a flashlight underneath covers. This dedication is the type of relationship people can have with written words. Ideas can seep into your conscious as you sit and contemplate them. You can let them fester inside of you, or you can read quickly to discover more and more in a rapid traverse. The medium of reading stands alone in these respects. My objective is not to espouse the benefits of literature — although there certainly are many — because books can easily distract, tempt, and mislead like any other activity. My point is to highlight the immense potential within it, to captivate and pierce the heart.

If you need more convincing why the written word is overflowing in its capacity for deep human connection, look no further than scripture as God’s chosen means of revealing Himself to us. What if our experience with reading generally could inspire our reading of scripture? This brings me to my central proposition: What if the Good Book was a good book?

Should I put it on my reading list?

What do I mean by the Bible being a good book? Part of me feels like I don’t have to tell you. I am not saying that the drama and narrative make you sit on the edge of your seat to see the end. The Bible is about real, messy people who aren’t archetypal heroes and villains. Despite this, any group of believers will talk about how they should read their Bible more, or about how God was teaching them something in scripture. We know it has value. Perhaps an accurate question is, what if the Bible was as good as we say it is? How would we act differently?

For as much as we talk up the Bible, evangelicals largely ignore its power. I hear so many testimonies of new believers who in ecstatic joy will read through the whole Bible. I would confidently say that a majority of America’s professing Christians have not done this. People who have grown up in the church for years with ample access to scripture stay comfortable with the occasional glancing over of Paul’s most popular letters, a Gospel or two, some quotes from the Psalms and Proverbs, and the occasional Bible story. I’d be so happy if I am wrong about this. I pray that I am. Maybe the actual data is all wrong, but my fear is that Barna has actually found worse results. Maybe I am just describing my own experience growing up in an Oklahoman evangelical culture and church. Do not misread me, I am not describing this pattern out of judgment. Personal confession might be a better characterization of my plea. I have too long ignored God’s word. It isn’t supposed to be this way.

For the Bible tells me so

The Bible’s description of itself should put it in right perspective.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

“but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither — whatever they do prospers.” Psalm 1:2–3

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.” Proverbs 30:5

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16–17

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

“And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” 1 Thessalonians 2:13

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.

I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors.

Never take your word of truth from my mouth, for I have put my hope in your laws.

I will speak of your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in your commands because I love them. I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees.

Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.

I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight. Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.”

Psalm 119:11, 15–16, 24, 43, 46–48, 97, 103–105, 131, 174–175.

(I wish I could quote all of Psalm 119, but it is the longest chapter in the Bible and this is as succinct as I could make my selection.)

And that is just a brief overview. I would recommend chapter 5 of Piper’s Desiring God for a comprehensive look at the proper, joyful role of scripture in Christian life.

Aggressive Expansion

I do not mean to simply tell you to read your Bible. You already knew that. I might instead propose for you think of the Bible differently. Growing up, my understanding of mature Christian practice was to read the Bible in your morning quiet time, pray about it, and move on. We read no other books this way. I am not criticizing that practice. Mornings in earnest prayer and the reading of scripture are not just good, but necessary for me to turn my heart towards God and, on a practical level, obey, worship, and love.

However, exclusively reading scripture in this way can create subconscious boundaries which limit one’s familiarity and enjoyment of scripture. People think that if the ‘best’ way to study scripture is alone, in a quiet room, for at least an hour, with a commentary and journal at the ready, then people may live only reading scripture that way, because anything else would be second-rate.

Instead, I am proposing aggressive expansion.

The Bible is accessible at an unprecedented level. You can get a book in every shape and size. 1,600 languages at your fingertips. You can pick a narrator’s accent as they read you any of several translations with instrumental hymns, piano, or some other background ambience at 0.5x to 2x speed.

If the Bible was a good book, we would sneak away to read it, like Jesus snuck away to pray. We would listen to it on car rides and runs. We would carry it in our backpack in hopes of a few spare minutes at the doctor’s office. We would take some time on our lunch break to get another chapter in. We’d read it on the bus. We might get distracted during a class lecture by the lure of Hebrews or take a walk with Romans playing in our headphones. Perhaps going to sleep to the sound of Psalms.

I firmly believe interpretation and application of scripture should be done carefully and with diligent attention. Any of my suggestions could also be accompanied with a sermon or exposition on the passage. That being said, this does not have to happen in a limited number of ways. May I cautiously propose that we should read the Bible all sorts of ways (not that all ways are profitable, but many ways are). Read fast and slow. Read something over and over again. Skim parts sometimes. (We don’t have to trace the genealogies or land allotments every single time, for example.) If you don’t understand some parable or doctrine, it’s ok not to investigate it at that second. Comparing commentaries while driving is not advised. You can make a mental note to check it later.

Find a passage that sticks out to you and memorize it this afternoon. Read something familiar. Read something foreign. Read straight through, or skip around a bit. There is freedom in reading the Bible this way.

I describe such lavish feasting, because we spiritually starve ourselves. A 15 minute quiet time in the morning and getting through the day is usually leaving a lot on the table, and I’m aware that being unmarried and in my twenties, I have more free time than most to spend studying scripture, but an expanded view of Bible reading reframes what scenarios are could be feeding times. It allows for spiritual snacks. Based on the promise of scripture and personal testimony, there are fruits this practice. There is abundance in God’s word.

Here’s some other, more specific benefits

1. The Bible can affect more than our morning

One critique might be that reading in the way I have described might trivialize the Bible or make it inactionable knowledge. We should absolutely take the Bible seriously and it should affect our lives. An expanded view of Bible reading — in my experience — has had the opposite effect. By saturating ourselves with scripture, God’s word inherently intersects more scenarios and more times of day. We are reading God’s word when we are tired and bored as well as excited and earnest.

Now, if it is going in one ear and out the other barely grazing the conscious, then it likely isn’t being productive. My encouragement in those times would be towards prayer. It is in God’s character to richly bless with wisdom those who faithfully ask for it.

God doesn’t want a begrudging reader, but if you find yourself begrudging, and you recognize that in your head, beg God to stir life into your stale heart. The glory of God is imminent and obvious, but it takes an act of God to recognize it as such, turning away from the distractions of our vegetative droning towards the joy before us.

Begrudging might best describe the limited view of Bible reading. When we read the Bible laser focused through a purely didactic lens we can miss out. Requiring we ‘get something’ out of scripture is laborious, straining something we want from a passage instead of trusting that a prayerful pondering of scripture and a corresponding examination of oneself will produce the desired wisdom. By reading expansively we primarily read because we want to, and receiving those truths is a natural outgrowth.

2. The Bible can become familiar

A certain pleasure in being a believer for a while, is that the Bible becomes familiar. When you read some verses, similar verses come to mind. When you want to address a particular concern or issue, certain chapters will come to mind. Being able to speak towards the big picture of certain books, chapters, or sections of the Bible helps us understand the broader narrative of scripture which helps us see parallel struggles and disputes today.

3. The Bible can encourage us

Another joy in reading the Bible this way is the direct way in which it encourages you. Many of the epistles were written for the express purpose of encouragement and rebuke, and they generally might have been read aloud in one sitting. We can be exhorted by them in the same way

What to do…

“God has not given the deep things to the smartest people. He has given them to the most eager people.” — Matt Chandler

A heart of desire will find ways to be satisfied. Eagerness can manifest itself in any number of ways. The downstream behaviors will not look the same for everyone, but the approach might. Our lives are primarily made up of the tiny decisions, and there are so many tiny decisions you could make from packing your bag differently to elongating your nighttime routine. I just want to ask the question, what if there was more? What if the Bible was as good as we say it is?

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Matthew Lugibihl

Matthew Lugibihl

This is primarily a smattering of thoughts surrounding God’s work in my life.