As I begin to read the Bible in this new year I’ve been thinking about a quote from Gerhard von Rad (1901-1971) that I read in Frederick Dale Bruner’s commentary on Matthew (Vol. I, page 437, Revised & Expanded Edition):
"Man's ancient folly is in thinking he can understand God better from his freely assumed standpoint and from his notion of God than he [could] if he would subject himself to [God's] Word."
While I may not have much shared Old Testament theological ground with von Rad, I can certainly say “Amen” to the quote. Today I can write that we’ve added to the folly by thinking that we can know the Bible by reading books about the Bible, or reading isolated verses of the Bible in what are often well-meaning contexts (and yet often contexts without Biblical meaning), or by listening to teachers and preachers without having our own encounter with the Bible and the God of the Bible. Training wheels can have their place in learning to ride a bicycle, but no healthy woman or man ought to be using training wheels – yet we think nothing of not actually reading the Bible – we would perhaps be embarrassed at offering reasons why we still use training wheels on a bicycle, but we have little or no embarrassment at offering excuses for why we don’t read the Bible.
This reads a bit hard, I wish it would read with a flavor of scandal, but we seem to be beyond feeling scandalous about the fact that few professing American Christians actually read the Bible on a daily or even weekly basis. When we do read it we often read it as von Rad warned against – we subject the Bible to our thinking and desires rather than subject ourselves to God’s Word.
The psalmist of Psalm 19 writes concerning God’s word, “More to be desired are they than gold, yes, than much fine gold. Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” The Bible represents eternal reality, it gives us the only clear way to think about God, the world, our neighbors, and ourselves.
People may say they believe in cosmic chance, but they don’t live like it – we all live by some measure of right and wrong, of justice and injustice; we may disagree on the standard used, but we all have a standard unless we are insane. (Our society is engaging in self-induced insanity with its insistence that there is no transcendent truth – other than that there is no transcendent truth – the emperor’s new clothes). Even nihilists (which I believe is the logical alternative to Christianity) don’t live like they believe in nothing – their actions when it comes to justice and injustice can be louder than their words.
I think of wisdom, as personified in the Biblical book of Proverbs, crying in the streets for the simple to come for instruction. Do we hear the cry today? Or has the professing church reached the point where we no longer need God’s Word? Our actions speak louder than our protestations of honor and respect for the Bible.
Our concern should not be that the Bible has been taken out of schools, it should be that we have removed it from our own hearts.