I read the Bible at the dinner table last night.
One of our daughters was laid out horizontally across her chair. Our son was crying, reaching for me to pick him up. And then our other daughter was doodling letters on the table with her sauce-glossed finger.
So I helped with that, and then I read. Galatians 3:26 says, simply, “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” Within a minute, I gave a short explanation, prayed, and closed with a hearty amen.
But before we transitioned to busing the table, our three-year-old spoke up. She claimed it was her turn to share and so, without reservation, I slid her the Bible and leaned in with full attention. She opened to some random pages and mumbled something about God and Satan and so forth. She then closed the Bible and said amen with a big smile on her face. It was really cute.
She made a statement about God with language from an open Bible without actually reading it. What she said was pure fluff. And it was cute. But only because she is three and can’t actually read.
It’s a Human Problem
It is an altogether different story when literate adults say stuff about reality in the name of Jesus without actually listening to what Jesus has said.
There’s a way to do that, of course, that doesn’t look as troubling as it sounds. Keep it nice and cheery and float in a verse citation when you can. As it turns out, our world isn’t so much turned off about Jesus-talk so long as it bears his name but not his truth.
For example, telling the world that everyone who does good will be redeemed by Jesus garners popularity, but it ironically fails to meet its own criterion. Despite how wonderful they may sound, lies are never loving.
But, hey, people like them. It’s cool to cite the Book, just don’t hold too tight to its authority on the things that repel us. We prefer fluff, not facts. Trifles, not truth. This is not a generational issue, nor a cultural one. It’s a human problem — a fallen human problem.
Not Really a Game
We see it happening vividly in the Book of Jeremiah. Hananiah of Gibeon tells a people under Babylonian threat that the threat is ending. He says that God is going to break the yoke of the king of Babylon, and within two years everything will be back to normal (Jeremiah 28:1–4). And this would have been great, if it had been accurate. But it wasn’t. Hananiah simply knew what the people wanted to hear, and that’s what he said. From our vantage looking back, that is so obviously silly. Just silly. But had we been there in the Jerusalem of 580 BC, Hananiah could have been our hero.
It’s dangerous, though, to vouch for ease over validity. We can so easily slip into this way of thinking that sees the world as one giant T-ball game of talk — just a cosmic clutter of ideas running after the same ball. So play nicely and keep it cute. It’s a gnostic T-ball game, after all. We defer to what sounds good in the moment and reading becomes part of the fun. It becomes this exercise of decoding our own desires rather than discovering the data of the Page.
But where reading is a game, people get hurt, and Jesus isn’t heard. For Christians, we don’t merely live among a world of words, but under the Word made flesh — who speaks with ultimate authority. What Jesus has to say isn’t stuck in the realm of his lessons, but in the rights of his lordship.
The Lord of Words
Behind every text of Scripture is no mere idea, but the person who reigns over everything. Jesus, crucified, dead, buried, and risen, seated on a real throne, reigns here and now by his Spirit, both in his people and throughout the world, through what he says. The biblical canon is where he speaks. How we read it is emphatically a lordship issue.
Reading is excavation, not invention. We observe — we don’t create. Faithful interpretation at its best is faith-filled repetition. God speaks through what we say from what he has said. And that means what we do with texts says more about our hearts than our intellects. By grace, we lean humbly on him, the divine author. We put our ear next to his heart by putting our eyes intently on his word. That’s when we shed the scales of carnal preference and cultural pressure.
That’s when we read as in read, not like a three-year-old, but as listeners who don’t want to make the text say what it doesn’t. For one, because we can’t. And most importantly, because why would we want to anyway? Only one has “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). Jesus is Lord, not us.