Bad at Bible.

I’ve been reading ‘The Irresistible Revolution; Living as an ordinary radical’ by Shane Claibourne for the last few weeks  (an incredible book which has the ability to make you feel both inspired, and at the same time completely despondent about your own life), and while writing a post about it, I’ve come up with about 10 tangentially related topics. This is one of them.


I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m really bad at bible. Given that it and I have been hanging out for a while now, we still don’t have the intuitive connection that I’d like. If there’s an incorrect way of interpreting it then I’ll probably go in that direction, and hearing passages read out loud usually leaves me bemused and puzzled (seriously, if it was a relationship we would be in so much trouble). I tend to make everything about universal health care and gay rights, so I’m fairly sure I’m bringing my own issues into it. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes the Bible really is just smiting people willy nilly.

Well,  I’m not bad at reading it exactly. It’s understanding that’s the problem. I’m great at reading it. I do it all the time (I’m really a class A christian, you know) but my understanding seems to be a shallow one that I later find to be pretty much inaccurate. I’m not sure what the problem is, but I seem to have to work oddly hard at truly getting to the heart of what is meant.

And I spend a lot of time saying, ‘I really don’t understand this bit’.

This ties in with my early dislike of studying English. I haven’t studied it since year 11 when I found the analysing and pulling apart of a perfectly good book so irritating that I swore never to do it again. I would read and read, I pledged, but I would have no need to engage too deeply or understand the wider context in order to enjoy the book.

I sincerely want everyone to know that I realize how bad that sounds.

I’m not sure whether pride or ego is my biggest vice. They are both fairly solid contenders at this stage of the game, I’d say.

(A touch of ‘I think our brains must be too highly trained, Majikthise‘)

I can’t get away with that kind of thing here, though. I need to go deeper. Which I’m actually glad that I’ve come to terms with, because the really cool and fun stuff comes with a deeper reading. The kind of reading when you make connections and see resonances within the different gospel stories; the kind that you really get when you have a bit of context.

This is how my bibles end up looking these days. I’ve blurred the words because after hearing this bit of Mark discussed at church today I realised that, not unsurprisingly, I had the wrong end of the stick again. It’s my thing, apparently.


I studied a unit last year that involved writing an exegesis (basically studying a bit of scripture from a particular viewpoint) and went from ‘Oh ffs how and why would someone want to write 2000 words on this little bit of Matthew, please kill me’ to ‘This is the funnest thing ever, I wonder if I could get a job doing this full time, I love it’, so sticking to my preconceived guns is clearly another thing that I’m not very good at.

Of course I’m not going to carry out an exegesis on every bit of scripture that crosses my path, but clearly I think that persisting with delving into the Bible is worth it. If nothing else, this new way of being that I seem to have fallen into has done wonders for my powers of determination and persistence. Even now, after all this time, I would find it much easier to argue for an atheist viewpoint than for the spiritual. That doesn’t mean that I agree with that paradigm any more, it just means that it’s still the mindset that I fall back on most naturally. which is something that I don’t love, but there we have it.*

But at least I’ve been able to come to terms with the fact that the Bible is highly nuanced and layered, worthy of a lifetime of contemplation and meditation. And also, more often that I’d like, I need to stick at difficult things to really see how great they are.

*This does have its upside though. If anyone comes at me with ‘the eye could not have evolved by chance’ type arguments I can rebut them pretty effectively. Well, to my mind anyway. Incidentally, I discovered recently that both my husband and my mother assume that I don’t believe in evolution anymore because I’m a christian. Which is just fucking dreadful on so many levels that I don’t even want to get into it.




13 thoughts on “Bad at Bible.

  1. I enjoy reading about your journey. Funny how it’s assumed that you checked your brain at the door of faith. I had a similar experience when I, after 27 years of being devoutly agnostic, embraced the Christian faith. It was more subtle. My circles just sort of shook their heads and wondered when I’d be back to reality.

  2. I think that’s why Christianity works well for people dealing with addiction – it is so much to wrap your mind around that it easily consumes the space once taken up by the addiction.

    The challenge of understanding (and remembering) it also plays well into the hands of those who want to lead people in certain directions.

    From a psychological standpoint, it’s interesting looking at the benefits and troubles that Christianity brings to the table.

    • I don’t know much about addiction or why Christianity works well, to be honest. But as a ‘space filler’ there are probably many other things that could fill your life just as effectively. I wonder what’s unique about religion? Living to a higher purpose, I assume? It can be just the ‘busy work’, because of that was it then stamp collecting or collecting cats would be as useful.

      • I’m not so sure – with religion you have connection with others in your journey, it’s low-cost, there is pressure to try to understand, and it is so complex and nuanced that fully understanding it is nearly impossible. Kind of like how you mention you fit your world-views into it only to learn of other parts that call your viewpoints into question. Christianity also has the focus of bettering your life and letting go of your past mistakes. A significant portion of the moral guidance in Christianity does make sense. Other hobbies can’t easily fill your time and or help you through things to the same degree.

        When I was exploring Christianity, I went to one of the Men’s Meetings done outside of the church. I think every single guy there referenced having been involved with one form of addiction or another. These were mostly the guys that seemed the most active with the church. It was really an eye-opening thing! But it totally makes sense.

  3. I’ve been reading/studying the Bible all my life. Every single time I read something, it means something completely different than it did the previous 10 times. I think the message meets us where we are and speaks to us in a variety of ways. I might read a passage and think it means one thing and you might read the same passage and think it means the complete opposite but we might both be right because we have different needs. As you know, I’ve worked with a variety of pastors and have learned many different ways of looking at the very same scripture. Keep reading and don’t be too hard on yourself. God will speak to you in so many ways and it still amazes me every time it happens. ❤ you!

    • Reading the Bible is the ultimate ‘lean not on your own understanding’ for me. I am amassing quite a collection of biblical commentaries, though ❤

  4. Hi Eva: My first thought was to post that old psychiatrist skit from Bob Newhart where he claims he can cure anyone of their problems in less than ten seconds with only two words…”Stop it!” But I thought better of it, heheh.
    I’ll use six words instead: You. Are. Not. Bad. At. Bible.
    Nanette makes an excellent point when she says, “I think the message meets us where we are and speaks to us in a variety of ways. I might read a passage and think it means one thing and you might read the same passage and think it means the complete opposite but we might both be right because we have different needs.” For me, this is the inherent, and necessary, tension of reading biblical scripture.
    Injecting your own life experiences into the text isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s a necessary thing. Rabbi Sandi Eisenberg Sasso calls this interaction with the bible a “conversation”; a process of dwelling in the scripture and making the words come alive, both for us and for others. It’s called reading “midrash”, a way of reading that intentionally injects the reader’s own life experiences into the pages, making them come alive, personal and relevant, applicable regardless of history, culture, or context.
    Rabbi Sasso, in her book, “Midrash: Reading the Bible With Question Marks” puts it this way: “Reading midrash allows us to become more familiar with the values, problems, and theology of another generation and invites us to consider how we too might add our own voices to the biblical text so that it continues to speak to our own generation.
    God delights in the human imagination. No one person can claim to hold the key to unlock what God intended, because what God intended was for each generation to read its story into the text. In fact, the Torah itself teaches this: “Surely this Teaching which I enjoin you this day is not…beyond your reach. It is not in the heaven…neither is it beyond the sea…No, the thing is very close to your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:11–14)”.

    How you feel about universal health care and gay rights, among others, is not necessarily wrong…it’s uniquely you, especially if you’ve asked for clarity, and God has placed those feelings inside of you for a reason. Just because someone else may feel differently about those issues doesn’t make them right or wrong either. God may well be using them in His own way, for His own purposes. Tension leads to a deeper search for meaning. Like Nanette says, you can read a passage ten times and come away with a little more each time. I’ll take it one step further; I think we will spend an eternity with God, and still not unravel all the mystery of our Father. But, how cool will that be?

    • Ha; ‘stop it’ would work quite well though! I had heard the word ‘midrash’ before but have never really looked into it. What a fascinating idea! I must look into it more. Thank you so much for your comment; I really appreciate it.

  5. I reckon you might be judging how well you are at Bible by a particular western (Anglo-Saxon) paradigm of how it should be read. Western European culture can tend to be like engineers (I was an engineer) and assume the Bible is an instruction book – some christians even call it that. But other cultures don’t necessarily see it that way.

    As Kent says, I’ve heard that ancient Jewish culture tended to see their scriptures as a conversation, with many viewpoints being expressed – e.g. the conversations in Job. Some of the early church fathers saw much of the Bible allegorically. And as I think you know, even today, Catholic and Protestant have somewhat different approaches to spirituality and hence to the Bible. Pentecostals and Orthodox and Anabaptists are all different again.

    You’ll hear sceptics saying doesn’t this prove the Bible is useless and can’t be from God, but I think it is quite the opposite. I read once someone said that the genius of christianity is its adaptability. I think God is calling us to reach out to him, and while some facts (e.g. about Jesus) are not really negotiable for a christian, there is heaps that is, and God seems quite OK with variation (I say “seems” because he didn’t actually tell me that!). 🙂

    • I like the point that you make about some non-negotiables (like jesus) and then lots of God meeting us where we are. I think that it’s ever changing; not that the book itself is changing, but that our perceptions are. Hopefully its an upward progression though, with greater and greater clarity as we move along our path.

  6. Hi Eva,
    Thanks for sharing your struggle. I’m a counseling pastor, and I see quite a few care-seekers wrestling with their relationship with the Bible. It is nuanced, as you said, but its meaning need not elude you. For what it’s worth, here are some helps that seem to clarify and give peace with the text, as counselees, my counselor and I have shared with each other. Hope they help:

    1) The Creator of everything loves you so much He gave you a divine message.
    2) Each and every book points to Immanuel – Jesus, God with us.
    3) His Word is written in His voice. Just like listening to a parent’s voice, our perception of the message from their voice has as much to do with where our heats / minds are as it does the words we take in.
    4) God is not transactional toward us… He operates as the source of infinite grace in the face of our brokenness. He loves us regardless of whatever thoughts or deeds eminate from us. He doesn’t do quid pro quo.
    5) pray first, read according to your reading plan, meditate on what you read, and consider how to employ it today.

    God’s blessings,

Comments are closed.