Just yesterday I had a conversation with a young woman about the fact that she was a Gemini, and she was explaining to me what all of that meant for how she dealt with the stresses of life day to day. This was a not a “die-hard” astrologer, or someone that anyone would consider to be avid about such things, it was just a low-key conversation. And it caught my attention because I noticed that the way she described using a horoscope was strangely like the way people often read the Bible.
Now I’m not concerned, here, about the evils of horoscopes. I’m talking, instead, about the evils of Bible reading.
In the CWP Inner Circle Bible study program, we are today nearly half-way through our study of 123John and I have a number of things swimming around in my head about life, stress, frustration, time, Bible study, and the “who cares” of it all.
We all know that stress is nothing new. However, when we are in the middle of increasingly stressful jobs or family situations or eerie economic times or upsetting social and political unrest or personal burnout or failing personal health (or all of it at once), all we really want to do is find a solution for it all, a way through it or out of it. Over time, not a whole lot else matters.
So, in the face of such things, what difference does focused Bible study make? Who cares about “contextual” anything? Who has time for extended jaunts into the black forest of overdone detail? I mean, what difference does it make whether 1John was written to people being influenced by Gnostic-like thinking? Who cares if some of them were buying into a philosophy that said Jesus didn’t really come in the flesh, or that he didn’t really die, or that sin is nothing to be concerned about; a teaching that focused, instead, on highly spiritual principles like “the more we know of the secret mysteries of God, the more we live in the light, and the less all the physical or religious stuff matters”? So what?
Hmm. You know, come to think of it, this might even appeal to us! If we are so overwhelmed at work or by health or with family that we can’t see our a way out of the current mess (or dilemma or whatever we call it), we might be subtly, if not incredibly, open to a mysterious secret of God rushing in from out of nowhere to “get us out of this mess.” Of course, we don’t call this “salvation” or “forgiveness” or any other overly religious sounding word—we already know we’ve “been saved,” so that’s not the issue; what we need is real here-and-now deliverance from what is right in front of us. We want out!
So, with that very real concern weighing over us, pushing our heads down so that we can’t see two feet in front of us, when we as harried bearers of the name of Christ do read a Bible text, we read it eagerly, selfishly, demandingly, having no time for any original intent or contextual consideration, but requiring instead an immediate pay off—“How will this help me now?” And if we can’t see it immediately, if we don’t feel the weight lessen right now, then we just don’t have time for it.
I don’t intend to say this gently. This kind of mindless, spineless reading of the Bible is its own proof of why contextual, responsible Bible study is needed, especially by the people who just don’t have time for it. This in no way de-contextualizes your own pain or horrid circumstances; it does not deny the reality of suffering or frustration or anger or even abuse by others. In fact, it does just the opposite. It honors and respects your pain and it says this:
If you want to deal with the realities of the things overwhelming you, if you really want a way out, you must face it contextually in your own life (i.e., directly, squarely, completely), and not just hurriedly, demandingly, and selfishly, with wishful thinking. When you read the Bible only for fast, unconsidered answers, you are not looking for God or for what he has to say; you are looking for a favorable horoscope—–or perhaps for a genie.
If you really want help from the Bible, you should understand this point: just as your life has a context with many ebbs and flows and complexities, so does the Bible. Don’t expect cheap, off the top, “magical” approaches to the Bible to offer lasting aid for your real-life situations. Instead, engaging in sustained, careful, contextual readings of the Bible will help to arm you for all kinds of situations you might face.
If you want your daily horoscope, read the newspaper—–and don’t expect much. But when you pick up your Bible, come ready for a real conversation.