In an age obsessed with the concepts and tools of self-help, Christian women reject the assumption that our Bible is just another tool. The Bible is anything but a self-help tool.
In one way, this mistake is understandable. The Bible is undoubtedly our help. And we certainly have to pick it up. We have to open it and read it. So, there is a self involved, and there is help involved. When we merge these realities, however, we might assume the Bible is only something we use to boost ourselves up in times of need. That thought is subtly prevalent, and sadly destructive.
To read the word of God is not to “work on ourselves.” There is help, but it is not the help we offer ourselves. It is the help of a holy God who is accomplishing his purposes in us.
My uncle is fond of saying that many Christians approach the word of God as if it is a cat they are dissecting. They want to label all the parts, standing over the word, analyzing and classifying it based on the comfort they think they need. In reality, we are the cat. The word is the knife that cuts — even between thoughts and intentions, soul and spirit, joint and marrow (Hebrews 4:12). The word of God is not a dead thing lying on the table, waiting for us and our insights to put it to use how we think we need to. It is living; it is active. It is far beyond our power to control.
Avoiding the Hard Parts
There’s a way to acknowledge God’s word, even grabbing little pieces of it for inspiration or encouragement, and yet not submit to its authority and power.
You can be careful to stay out of the dangerous bits, avoiding anything that confronts your assumptions. You might be afraid of the gnarly Old Testament stories. You might refuse to let the Bible’s clear teaching on men and women come near you. You might skip over an imprecatory psalm, or avoid the toughness of Jesus in certain passages. You might spend all your time reading the insights of people who feel safe, those you know have no intention of actually letting the knife of the word get near your heart. Or maybe you only look up a specific comfort for a specific time.
Many Bible apps and Bible studies lead us down this kind of special safety guided tour. “Look with me to the left and notice this pink rose that will comfort your anxiety.” “Let’s take this verse out of context and substitute your name in so we can see that God loves you exactly as you are.” “Please close your eyes with me for the thousands of years of sacrificing bulls and goats to atone for our sin.” “Oh don’t mind Achan and his family being swallowed up by the earth for disobedience.” In summary, refuse to look at anything that requires the death of your ideas of personal grandeur.
The sinful heart of man loves to try to get the word of God into a place where we are not so threatened by it. Because, goodness knows, it is a threat! It threatens the old man in all of us. And the biggest threat it offers is to open our eyes to reality.
We want the Bible to serve us in a very limited capacity. Something that could fit into the glove box of our lives and encourage us when we feel we need encouragement. The word of God certainly does encourage us. But it undoes us first. It destroys and remakes us (Hosea 6:1). It doesn’t maul us to leave us as a carcass on the table of our quiet time, but it calls us back to life through dying to ourselves. Like the words of the prophet Ezekiel, the word puts flesh on our bones (Ezekiel 37:4–6). It breathes life into us. The Bible calls us to the purposes of God, equips us for those purposes, and then sends us out to do them.
Reading the Bible in its entirety is not for the gurus of self-help. And it is not only for the scholars with all their exegetical, theological, and historical lenses (and the safety equipment many of them accumulated in seminary). Reading the whole word of God is for ordinary people, for church members and teenagers. It is for the uneducated. It is for the exhausted, the faint of heart, the troubled, the fearful. Reading the whole word is for every human.
No More Defenses
The saddest part about our attempts to relegate Bible reading to a self-help tool or self-development effort is that we speak of the word of God as though it were a skin cream or energy bar. A little something we pull out to improve ourselves, and that we sometimes privately share with others to help them along. An insider tip. A little item we have at our disposal and like to apply as needed, in moderation, with caution. We will do anything to keep it small and controllable. We share encouraging verses with one another as though we were sharing coupons. “Here’s a little something you might enjoy if you need it.”
What might the world look like, though, if Christian women everywhere laid down all their defenses, took off all of their protective gear, and laid themselves open to the power of the word?