Why Read The Bible?
In my time growing as a Christian, one of the things that took me longer than most to understand was the value of reading the Bible. I’m not even sure why when I consider my personality. In the Navy, I hated the idea of people telling me what they thought. I had several people say, “That’s not the way to do it,” or “That’s against policy!” I always wondered, “Where are they getting all these rules?”
I don’t know that every person who ever corrected me or yelled at me (not that it happened a metric ton in the Navy) or even talked to me about policy was ignorant about it or not, but one day someone sat me down to show me what I’d done wrong. Instead of yelling or barking about ephemeral concepts, he printed the actual Navy policy in question. He let me read it. There wasn’t a debate. There was no yelling. There was no overly-long lecture or self-elevating speech. It was policy, and allowing me to read it made it about what the regulation said. I loved it. It was simple and true with no bias toward emotion or personal preference.
From that day, I always wanted to look at the policy. At my current job, I periodically read my unit’s information guide because I really do want to do what is right. That’s always been a guiding principle of mine, and so I grew to love the law. Why then, did I never read the Bible?
Please don’t misunderstand. There were several times and periods of my life where I read the Bible. What I didn’t do was read and study it daily or read it all the way through even once.
One day, while talking to one of my protégées in the Navy, I told her how important it was for one to always read the policy. For some reason, that was the moment I realized I was avoiding the source. I was angry at “organized religion.” I was angry at “Bible thumpers.” Now I realize a great deal of those “Bible thumpers” hadn’t read the Bible (at least not all the way through). They’d shout at people whatever scripture they thought was relevant, but they did it from the mindset of convincing others to do what they want rather than focus on what God wants.
We see this all the time. We see it in people who falsely claim that people of color are cursed (they’re not). We see it in people who falsely claim that people of different nationalities are lesser (they’re not). Those people love picking one verse out of context and running with it.
But the Bible is one book with sixty-six parts. If you don’t study and see how they go together and interact, your doctrine will be wrong. That doesn’t mean a person can’t study for certain things. This very book is a Biblical research project, and that’s what led to this particular chapter. You see, those who would degrade the word of the Bible probably do so because they encountered several of the people who abused it (like those above).
It was hard for me to believe the Bible was the word of God. (Wasn’t it written by men?) It was hard for me to believe the historicity of the Bible. (How could the things in the Bible be true?) What convinced me? Sure enough, I actually decided to sit down and read the whole thing. I had questions, but I didn’t declare those questions inconsistency and put it down. Rather than let my questions become reasons to stop reading and growing, I let my questions drive me to seek answers. Rather than check history, archeology, and science (real science driven by fact and not “commonly believed” bias), I checked those things against the Bible, and thus far, the Bible has won every time.
Even in the most easily recognized areas of dispute (you’re saying the world was created in six days? What about … ) the very things people use to dispute the word of God are not provable by the very science they claim debunk the Bible. The theories of the universe and evolution (and other long-held beliefs called “science”) are at-best theories that scientists are seeking to prove. The best of those scientists are objectively seeking truth based on that hypotheses, understanding that a hypotheses is just that. The worst of them have the same dogmatic rigidness they accuse a Christians of having, believing without real evidence or even the scientific desire to seek consistent evidence on the subject.
While I believe I have a scientific mind, I don’t have the scientific knowledge to prove anything, nor will I try. What I will say though is even a casual investigation into man’s biggest questions from the Bible are only (at-best) as challenging as the same “proofs” scientists have been striving to find.
If I were more scientific, the remainder of this chapter would be used to help secure one’s faith by using scientific evidence to prove the validity of the Biblical record. (Or even prove the truth of it. Truth and validity aren’t the same thing.)
That science is being conducted, and the information is out there. I’m studying it as we speak. I’m just not as versed as I’d like to be, and any effort I make in that vein will only cause more skepticism.
Instead, I want to use my time in this chapter to tell you what reading the Bible has done for me.
Reading the Bible keeps me centered. I’m a passionate man. I’m a man of high emotion and drive. I’m also one who believes in doing what is right. I’m not without error by any means. I get distracted at work. I can be argumentative. But when I see someone doing something I know is wrong, I can be pretty unloving about how I point it out. I hope I’ve grown in this, and the people who know me have said this is true. But I was pretty thunderous in my rebuke of people who “weren’t doing it right.” I was also pretty hypocritical, pointing out the wrongs of others without any regard to my own transgressions.
Reading the Bible puts my mind on God and his commands and how a person should live. It gives me balance between love and truth. It gives me humility when I want to be prideful. It gives me patience when I want to be hasty. It gives me discipline when I want to be wrong.
Reading the Bible gives me knowledge. A few years ago when I had so many questions, I could use those questions to excuse what I wanted to do or avoid things I knew I should be doing. A good portion of the Bible (the epistles), are all about guiding young believers in their walk and helping them grow. The answers are there if you read and seek. Reading the Bible (go figure, in the same way you’d read any book) gives me scope. I see how things come together. I better understand doctrines that used to elude me.
Reading the Bible gives me confidence in my faith. That same period I had questions, I also used those questions to feed my doubt about Christianity. Reading the Bible removes that doubt. Do you worry that there are inconsistencies in the Bible? Don’t, while there are parts that don’t match exactly, the Bible is amazingly consistent from Old to New Testament. Most of the reasons things don’t line up exactly have more to do with the intended audience of the work than errors in factual reporting.
This is something I teach my students. A journalist writing a story for Navy News Stand is going to format a story very differently than if he were writing it for the Yuma Daily Sun. The facts are in there. Some are left out because they matter less to one reader than another. Some are emphasized because they’re more important to one audience than another. But there is no one verse of the Bible that directly contradicts another. Only a passive scan of the Bible with the intent to find discrepancies (rather than a thorough reading with the intent to find truth, in this case to learn what it really says and why) would find evidence. However, that evidence of discrepancies never holds up against a careful reading of all the context and other accounts.
I’ve come to learn this by reading the Bible carefully. I had doubts. I may have even started my first full read through of the Bible expecting to find discrepancies and inconsistencies. They just aren’t there.
Reading the Bible fills my spirit. My human heart is prideful, arrogant, resentful, and unkind. Do I reflect those qualities more than say … a maniac? No, but just because I’m not as evil as one man doesn’t remove those characteristics from my flesh. My flesh is weak, but my spirit is so very willing to grow, and it is the overcoming of those fleshly desires that glorifies God. Reading the Bible strengthens my spirit. It arms me with the tools I need to be loving in my rebuke and humble in my mindset. I need this so much. The more I read, the easier it is to recognize when I’m thinking with a self-centered mind. (I think. I want. I believe.) The more I read, the more readily I think with a god-centered mind. (What does God say? What does God want me to do? How are my actions glorifying Him? How am I bearing Him fruit?)
There are other books that speak about the historicity, validity, and truth of the Bible, and the panel is more than welcome to contribute to those subjects. But a communication teacher who has only read the Bible all the way through one time probably isn’t going to convince anyone of those things. But a guy who reads twenty-thirty five books a year talking about what reading this book does for him? That’s probably a bit more effective. If you haven’t tried it, try it. Even if you just read it for the sake of reading anything, you’ll see how the whole story comes together in a beautiful and comforting way.
For our panel: What are some other reasons to read the Bible? Did you have any doubts in your walk in the faith? How did reading the Bible remove those doubts? Was there a particular portion of the Bible that was harder for you to believe or help others believe? How did you use the Bible to learn the truth, or how did you find certainty?