I am working on something at the moment – some writing, that is. I am far enough through (perhaps not quite halfway) to feel that I want to release a bit of it. But I’m not going to get trigger-happy. Here it is for now:
There is only one way to escape the moral authority of the Bible. That is to receive and accept its operation on our life, on our brain, on our heart. The fiery and vengeful sword will become the surgeon’s patient and wise scalpel. The axeman of the north becomes a gardener tirelessly chipping away at the colossal weeds and misplaced plants and trees that have been permitted to take up the good soil of our lives. Allowing myself to be pierced with the word of God changes my day. It changes my heart attitude. It bites back the too-ready retort to my loved ones or work colleagues. It reminds me that I must decrease and he must increase. The Holy Spirit is in me today and telling me to ‘Go and help that man’, to ‘Visit that friend in hospital’, to ‘Go the extra mile with that person so that they are helped’. Reading the Bible elevates a day, and puts it on a different plane. I want that as many days of my life as I can. As Jonathan Edwards says:
God hath told us about what things we should chiefly employ our understandings, having given us a book full of divine instructions, holding forth many glorious objects about which all rational creatures should chiefly employ their understandings. These instructions are accommodated to persons of all capacities and conditions, and proper to be studied, not only by men of learning, but by persons of every character, learned and unlearned, young and old, men and women. Therefore the acquisition of knowledge in these things should be a main business of all those who have the advantage of enjoying the Holy Scriptures.
It is true that some people do not have access to a Bible through illiteracy, or geography or poverty, or cannot appreciate it in their own language. Edwards makes it clear here that it is not simply for preachers and pastors to read the Bible in order to explain it to the church, but that every individual who has known the quickening power of their Father and who longs to move into God’s neighbourhood needs the Scripture:
When God hath opened a very large treasure before us, for the supply of our wants, and we thank him that he hath given us so much; if at the same time we be willing to remain destitute of the greatest part of it, because we are too lazy to gather it, this will not show the sincerity of our thankfulness…Be assiduous in reading the Holy Scriptures. This is the fountain whence all knowledge in divinity must be derived. Therefore let not this treasure lie by you neglected…. When you read, observe what you read. Observe how things come in. Take notice of the drift of the discourse, and compare one scripture with another. For the Scripture, by the harmony of its different parts, casts great light upon itself… When you have it explained in the preaching of the word, take note of it; and if at any time a scripture that you did not understand be cleared up to your satisfaction, mark it, lay it up, and if possible remember it.
Do not allow yourself to read fewer than five consecutive chapters of a book. Ideally, read an entire book at once. And I am not restricting you to the little books, such as Ruth, Esther, Philemon, Jude. Encounter a swathe of narrative. It is rare for an avid reader to piece out a gripping read into chapters. An ideal read is in one sitting: we all know this. I cry out for the luxury of time just spent reading. Reading the Bible in powerless segments is like chopping a single conversation with a friend up over time. You ask God a question, but you forgot that you asked him because that was three days ago now. He told you that he had something important to show you, but you went and plumb forgot that because you were actually preoccupied at that point as you remembered all you had to do that day, and you missed a miracle.