We are at the beach and it, of course, is all we want it to be. The expansive ocean outside our window, which makes our small children look even smaller, is both mesmerizing to watch and so much fun for swimming and playing. I was trying to race my family back to our chairs by swimming through the waves while they walked on the beach. Totally winded from swimming a sprint in the water, I looked up to find I had made little to no progress towards our destination. That big ocean continually reminds me of its size and strength in contrast to my greatest aspirations and presumptions about my own.
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. Ex. 3:5-6
At breakfast this morning, Dad lamented his feeling that after a lifetime of reading the Bible, he really doesn’t have confidence that he can just pick up a passage and know with any accuracy how it is telling about the person and work of Jesus and His hope-giving redemptive work today. Those weren’t his exact words, of course, but what he went on to say is what really touched something profoundly significant in my own life. He said he spends far more time reading books about the Bible than the Bible itself. When he goes out on the beach, he’d readily take a book about a redemptive figure or circumstance (like William Wilberforce or the folks learning from their experience living in Hard Bargain) than just taking the Bible out to the beach to pour over it instead. (I’d readily take a brain numbing mystery and plow through the whole thing in a day.)The Bible, sadly, has been relegated to those private moments called “devotion” and then tucked away until the next day.
He was telling something more true about my own experience than I have even had the awareness to lament. Why is this the way I relate to the Bible, I wonder? For one, I know that whenever I have set out to “read through the Bible in a year” or just pick it up and enjoy its pages, my experience is like attempting to swim impressively in the ocean or even just play tirelessly in it. I approach with the intention of conquering and I walk away in defeat, sometimes with water up my nose.
And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Ex. 33:19-20
What I do find when I pick up my Bible, which is the very same reason I don’t pick it up more frequently, is that my small stature becomes even smaller when I approach it. I have in mind to master the content before me, to own it like some newly discovered land I am entitled to possess simply because I won some battle of determination. But instead, I find it will not be conquered, possessed or even subdued by me. Instead, it overwhelms me with how much I don’t understand it, how much I don’t see clearly and, like my great effort in swimming the ocean route back to our chairs, the increasing distance and effort required to attain my goal is totally defeating.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testifies concerning him. He cries out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ” From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known. John 1:1-2, 14-18
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:27
“The Word” who is God, who nobody was able to see and then continue to live, became flesh and made His dwelling among us and has made Himself known. Wow. What if I begin to spend time seeing Jesus in all the Scriptures not to master, conquer, or complete them or Him, but just to gaze at Him the way I am comforted, amazed, splashed, worn out and relaxed by the ocean? What if I quit evaluating my Bible reading, which only condemns me, and simply enjoy it as I do the ocean? What if being anxious for nothing also includes my efforts and desired accomplishment in seeing Jesus in my Bible as much as it includes not stressing over making the very most of every second at the beach? My accomplishment oriented approach to the Bible will have to be confronted by the person and work of Jesus even as He becomes what mesmerizes me in its pages.
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:7-8