The following is the final post in a series looking at the ways the Bible functions for believers as they read, meditate on and live by the word of God and the ways God intends His word to function for us in those ways. Read the first post and second post here.
Part 3 of this series continues the survey of ten ways that Christians use the Bible. We continue with #8-10. (Part 1 is available with uses #1-3, Part 2 is available with uses #4-7.)
The Bible is useful to tell me things that I don’t want to hear. In this sense, God’s word is an alien voice that is antithetical to human culture and the way things seem to work in our lives. My own intuitions are warped by my experience, so I need God to speak informatively and confrontationally to my failures and illusions. Most people practice the self-assuring selection of people we hang around, books we read, and news voices we pay attention to as already aligned with our conclusions. The hard work of listening to alien voices that tell us we are wrong (mistaken) is helpfully provided by God in the Bible if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. God has lots of hard things to tell us in the Bible, often with the intent of attacking our illusion that we are capable in ourselves. Using the Bible for rebuke from God is a posture of willingness to be guided by him.
Similar to inspiration and encouragement, Christians frequently read the Bible to hear repetition of the promises by God for hope and assurance. This devotional mode for assurance is the way God’s word reminds us that painful or troublesome circumstances of our lives are not the whole picture. More is going on of God’s providential working out his plan than just the appearances of events we can see and track. The biblical stories of God’s involvement give us hope and assurance of his unseen work in our conditions. Just as God was invisibly orchestrating large and small details in the stories of Esther, Joseph, and Ruth, we also can rest on God’s care for us that we don’t see presently. Biblical promises and declarations enlarge the frame of our hope to God himself—beyond the limited frame of our own feeble capabilities and the seemingly chaotic ups and downs of modern life. A reader could make the mistake to imagine false assurances from misusing biblical promises made to Israel or following a prosperity theology that ignores God’s positive purposes for pain and evil. In contrast to prosperity theology, the assurance of the Bible is the realism of God’s involvement with people in the conditions of their distresses—as in the examples of Jesus on the cross, Joseph in Egypt, Ruth, Job, Esther, or Paul in his many afflictions. Knowing God’s goodness is to accomplish his plans in the midst of our troubles (Romans 8:28-29) reassures us of his nearness in our pain. Seeing these accounts and promises in the Bible make the difference of experiencing God’s involvement with us when our intuitions would otherwise mislead us to think the presence of pain means the absence of God.
10. Personal engagement
The purpose of all God’s work towards us is that we would know him, enjoy him, and experience his involvement with us as children to our Father. Using the Bible to know God (information) and be rebuked, assured, and guided in our thinking serve the goal of meeting with God in a direct and personal way. Christians may be avid Bible readers without meeting with God (a misuse of the Bible). The same can be done in prayer and worship and ministry. Religion is pointless in itself; engagement with God is the only point. The verbal communication from God through cultural literature of the Bible is an encounter with God. Just as a text message is a small piece of my mind shared with a friend through tiny pixels on a phone screen, God’s word is his accommodation to share his thoughts and actions with us. Listening to God by reading the Bible is the best use of Scripture to receive all the ways he shares himself with us. Alongside the Bible, God does speak to individuals. The Bible’s unique worth is its public and objective testimony from God that can be studied, memorized, and reverberates in our experience from God himself. The Bible is not under our control. We might misuse it, but right use remains God’s reach to us through this written communication as the basis for other ways he involves himself with us (through other people, our circumstances, or speaking to us).
I can imagine there are other uses of the Bible besides these ten surveyed in a brief way. Many gifts have a shadow. Like a very sharp knife, Scripture can be misused for bad effects. We must be careful. I shudder to remember things I have represented as biblical teaching that were not. Like Apollos who received theological guidance from Priscilla and Aquila, I misunderstood facts at the time I taught what I thought was the truth. God did not strike me with lightning but met me and later showed me a better way. I’ve been corrected enough times to have greater hesitation about things that are less clear in the Bible. My prayer is to come to the Bible as it is and receive the goods that God intends to me by it. I come to the book with anticipation of many goods God accomplishes when I read. I anticipate the infiltration of my own thoughts by God’s thoughts.
Read the second post in the series: “Ten Uses of the Bible: Part 2.”