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There are three main reasons why Christians avoid reading the Bible. Some feel it’s just too hard to understand. Others feel it’s as boring as dirt. A third group avoids the book out of fear—fear that they’ll feel hopelessly condemned or fear of how scary God is.
If you find the Bible too hard to understand, it’s not your fault. You’ve just had crummy teachers. It is very advantageous for Christian leaders to keep you in a confused muddle about what the book actually says, and thanks to their shady games, most Christians have a very poor understanding of Scripture and a strong belief that they need “experts” to interpret it for them. Well, no, you certainly do not need other humans to teach you about God. You just need God, and you have God, so it’s time to flush this theory that you’re dumber than your pastor.
There is no passage in the Bible that is too difficult for you to understand and if you’re tired of feeling confused, you’ve come to the right place. We love helping Christians understand the Bible better, and if you’re feeling stumped by some difficult passage, you can always drop us a line and we’ll be glad to help you out. There’s no such thing as a dumb Christian, and since we’re not threatened by you taking our kingdom away from us and we’re not relying on you to pay our bills, we have no reason to try and keep you feeling one down to us. So if God is stirring up your curiosity about the book, then it’s time for you to jump in, and we have plenty of material to get you started.
Now maybe you’re in the second camp of folks who find reading the Bible as tedious as watching paint dry. If so, it’s time to stop persecuting yourself with daily devotions and get a real solution to your problem. For help with this, see Escaping the Boredom of Reading the Bible.
For all of you in the third group: you’re the ones we’re going to focus on in this post. You’re afraid of getting too close to the book because you hate the way it makes you feel. Well, sure, who wants to feel like scum in the eyes of an angry God? And who wants to focus on the fact that God is a volatile Monster who gets off on slaughtering people? Infants getting bashed to death on rocks, pregnant women getting ripped open with swords, women getting treated like property, slavery, plagues, a bunch of hateful talk about sexual perverts—it’s all in there. But if any of it is dragging you down and making you feel hopeless about ever having a positive relationship with your own Creator, then there’s a major problem. You see, when you are properly taught about God, all of the violence and hateful language in the Bible doesn’t drag you down. On the contrary, you feel intrigued and inspired and more confident about how good God really is. But wait—how does that work? How do you get more confident about God being kind, gracious, and approachable by reading passages in which He’s chewing people out and threatening to beat their brains in? It’s all about understanding context.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTEXT
When you don’t understand the context of a verse, those fearful feelings that arise are a result of you misunderstanding what’s really being said. So what exactly is context? Well, suppose you’re trying to eavesdrop on a conversation that two of your friends are having in another room. The door to the room is closed, and there you are with your ear pressed up against it. You’ve heard one of them say your name—that’s what piqued your curiosity. Now you’re trying hard to listen, but unfortunately someone else is vacuuming in another part of the house. When the vacuum gets too close, the noise of the machine drowns out what your friends are saying so what you end up hearing is:
“Yeah, I think Jane is…(loud vacuum sound)…stuck-up…(loud vacuum sound)…don’t you think?”
“I totally agree with you.”
Now you really like these people, but these snippets of conversation make it sound like they’re backstabbing you in another room. Ouch. When they finally come out of that room, you’re going to feel very negatively towards them. Your feelings are hurt, your trust is blown, and yet it’s all one big misunderstanding because you didn’t hear the whole conversation. What your friends actually said was this:
“Yeah, I think Jane is so sweet. She’s not at all stuck-up like those other women in our home group. We’re lucky to have her as a friend, don’t you think?”
“I totally agree with you.”
Wow, what a difference. If you’d heard everything that was said, you’d realize your friends were really praising you, not bagging on you. This is what it means to understand context: it means to hear the whole story, to understand all of the factors involved. In the Church, Christians are rarely taught about Scripture in the proper context. Instead, Christian leaders are notorious for yanking one-liners out of context and putting their own personal spin on them. It is by ignoring context that we end up believing all sorts of lies about how who God is, how He views us, and what He demands of us. We’re now going to list off just a few popular teachings in the Church which are promoted as being biblically supported. See how many sound familiar to you:
God hates women, or He at least views them as less valuable than men.
The Jews are God’s favorite people.
God hates sexual perverts and He’s going to throw them all into Hell.
God commands Christians to tithe.
If you were really pleasing God, you’d be healthy, wealthy, and happy.
God never tempts you.
You can always overcome temptation. So if you’re sinning, it’s all your fault.
God is very difficult to please.
God has always supported and defended Israel.
Satan rules the world, not God.
If you ever have serious doubts about your faith, God will cast you out.
God the Father is a hot-tempered, violent kind of Guy whereas Jesus is all sweetness and grace.
Jesus is not fully God—He’s a God-man hybrid.
If you don’t love other people all the time, then you’re not really saved.
If you notice a pattern of abuse in your family, it’s because you’re all under a generational curse.
God commands you to be holy, which means be perfect. If you aren’t holy enough, He’ll throw you into Hell.
When you get saved, God totally changes your fallen flesh, therefore you have no excuse for sinning after that.
If it goes against the Bible, it isn’t God talking.
God would never lie or change His mind.
God cursed certain ethnic groups in the Bible, which means no one belonging to those groups can ever get saved.
The biblical writers were more spiritually advanced than you are.
You need other believers to pray for you in life.
If you are righteous in God’s eyes, He’ll give you whatever you ask for.
Murder is an unforgivable sin.
God does not love pedophiles.
If you don’t have some intensely emotional conversion experience, then you aren’t really saved because you didn’t really submit.
Spiritual leaders get special protection from God.
You should never question God’s anointed ones.
There is power in holy water.
There is power in the laying on of hands.
If it feels like the Holy Spirit left you, He did.
None of these statements are true, and yet each one of them can have a drastic impact on your personal view of God. For example, suppose you’re gay. If you really think that God has rejected your soul simply because it is stuck in an earthsuit that gets aroused by your own gender, then when you open up the Bible, you are going to be reading it through a mental filter of “God hates me.” You’ll be searching for evidence to support a belief that you’ve already decided is true: God hates gays. The problem is that you got this belief from other people, you didn’t get it from God. Since when are other humans the final authority on how God perceives gays? If you want to know how God views you, you need to be asking Him directly, not trusting in the theories of people who claim to know Him.
The same is true for women: your gender doesn’t make you less valued by God. Yet there are many leaders in the Church today who say that it does. If you just believe them without ever asking God Himself, then you’re going to read historical accounts of a male dominated society and assume that every time women are treated badly by men, God is up in Heaven smiling in approval. Well, no, He isn’t. God loves all souls. He also loves variety. He doesn’t think men are better than women. He loves both genders. He doesn’t think whites are better than blacks or that Jews are better than non-Jews. God isn’t going to tell you to obey every pompous windbag who comes into your life just because they call themselves anointed. God isn’t going to say you’re unforgivable scum because you got that abortion or because you murdered or because you abused kids. God loves all souls. Does His patience have limits? Sure. Hell is real, and God is constantly throwing people into it. But before you decide that Hell is where you’re destined to end up, you need to talk to God.
PUTTING THE BIBLE IN PERSPECTIVE
If you’re afraid of reading the Bible, you’ve fallen into the common trap of believing that the book is your comprehensive manual on God. Nothing could be further from the truth. God is the One who is going to educate you about who He is, and God is not a book. Since God Himself is your Source of truth, reading the Bible is only going to be beneficial when God is in the mood to teach you through it.
Let’s take some random photographs of you doing various activities throughout the year. As we look through them, all we see are still shots of you interacting with various people or saying or doing something. The photos won’t mean much unless you’re there to explain to us what’s going on in each of them. It’s the same with you and the Bible. When you try to figure out the Bible on your own, it’s like your looking at a bunch of still shots of a complete stranger and making up a bunch of assumptions about him that probably aren’t even true. In the Bible, you read about Yahweh (God the Father) giving the command for the Jews to mercilessly slaughter every man, woman, child, and beast that they find in the Promised Land. And if that’s your one still shot of God, you’re going to leap to all kinds of wrong conclusions about Him. For one thing, you’ll figure He must hate all the people He’s slaughtering. Next you’ll assume He thinks the Israelites are fabulous, since they’re the ones He’s giving the kill order to. Third, you’ll assume the people He’s talking so hatefully about are just innocent folks who never did Him any wrong, therefore God is a merciless jerk. See how it works? You aren’t looking at the big picture. You’re ignoring context. Most importantly, you’re not asking God to help you understand His behavior. If you were to ask God, He’d help you see that the Israelites who He appears to be favoring are actually really ticking Him off. He’d help you understand that His calling for the slaughtering of the inhabitants of the Promised Land had nothing to do with ethnic favoritism. He’d point out the fact that He’d given the folks in that land countless chances to submit to Him, only to have them willfully defy Him generation after generation. And He’d lead you to the verses where He explains to the Israelites that it’s just not good for their spiritual health to hang out with folks who are wallowing in perversity and evil. He’d show you the verses where He specifically says the Israelites aren’t inheriting the land because God thinks they’re so deserving, but rather because the time has come for Him to pass judgment on rebellious souls. The Israelites themselves aren’t excused from judgment. On the contrary, God promises to nail them with all kinds of miseries if they don’t get serious about obeying Him. And He’d remind you that He is an extremely gracious Judge who takes souls to Heaven, not Hell, if they have been killed off before acquiring the information they need to properly submit to Him.
Once you actually start listening to God and giving Him the chance to speak for Himself, you start viewing everything differently. When you read about countless children being sacrificed to demonic idols, you don’t think, “God is such an indifferent Creep to let innocent babies be so cruelly slaughtered.” Instead, you realize how gracious God is being to whisk all of those kids off to Heaven before they have the chance to grow up under the influence of demon worshiping parents and turn away from Him. You see, dying young is not the terrible thing we make it out to be. If God takes a soul off the earth before He considers them morally accountable, they get a free pass to Heaven. He’s not ripping them off from some great life, He’s saving them from the very likely possibility that they’ll grow up and defy Him (see Behind the Scenes with God: Human Variation, Lifespans, and the Mechanics of Salvation).
With God, things are not as they first appear to be. He has good reasons for what He does. He is incredibly gracious and He delights in blessing us. He is a kind and loving Creator—One who actually gets joy out of seeing you enjoy your own existence. So when you’re reading the Bible and all you’re picking up is a theme of some angry God hating you, you’re not hearing from God. You’re just hearing from demons and you’re hearing the bad teaching humans have taught you bouncing around in your own head. If you want to stop feeling intimidated by the Bible, you need to talk directly to the God who it is attempting to describe.
The Bible did not magically float down from the sky one day. It is a collection of historical documents which were written by Jewish men from all walks of life. Like every ethnicity, the Jews viewed life through a grid of their own cultural bias. They looked down on women and non-Jews, they thought Israel was the best nation on the planet, and they thought everyone who hated them deserved to die. But that’s just carnal humans talking. God is not a Jewish man. God isn’t obsessed with some patch of dirt on this speck of a planet which we call Earth. God is not a human—He’s a totally different kind of Being who has vastly different priorities and perspectives than you do. God is also the One who brought you into existence and He did so for the purpose of having a personal relationship with you. So is God interested in you? Absolutely. Does He disapprove of the way that He designed you? Of course not. You’re the gender, color, size, shape, and race that He wanted you to be. God doesn’t make mistakes, flops, and rejects. He only makes things that He likes. When He created you, He designed a creature with the capacity to have a close, positive bond with Him.
You’re not going to get an accurate view of God by reading a collection of documents which were penned by one group of extremely biased human beings. Many of the men who contributed documents to our modern day Bibles didn’t know God well at all, and their writings reflect that. Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes promotes many erroneous views about God. The apostle Paul, the apostle John, James, and the author of Hebrews all grossly misrepresent God in much of their teaching. Though it is commonly promoted as being inerrant, the reality is that the Bible is a mix of good and bad teaching. There are some really essential truths spelled out in it, but then there are a lot of blatant lies. What else would you expect when you’ve got a demon worshiper like Solomon and an arrogant dingdong like the apostle Paul doing the teaching? If a man isn’t listening to God in his personal life, he’s clearly not in a position to instruct others on who God is and what He wants.
So where does this leave you? If the Bible is a mess of good and bad teaching, is it even worth reading? Of course it is. There’s much to be learned by studying how quickly people go astray when they stop listening to God. As a nation, ancient Israel was a spiritual disaster. But she still teaches us many important lessons about what spiritual rebellion looks like and how God responds to it. Bad examples can be just as useful to you as good ones if you’re listening to God. But if you’re not listening to God and you’re not relying on Him to guide your thinking as you read the Bible, then you’re just going to end up in a mess.
Reading the Bible should not be a fearful, draining experience. If it is, then that’s an indication that you are not yet in a place where you’re confident about hearing God’s Voice. It also indicates that you don’t understand God’s positive intentions towards you. No sweat. These are problems which can be easily remedied. Set the book aside for now and ask God to help you get a better understanding of how He views you personally. Now at first, this is scary to do—especially when you’re convinced that God doesn’t like you. But if God were really the One telling you that He has a problem with you, He’d also be telling you what you could do to immediately get back into a good place with Him, and that thing would be well within your grasp. God isn’t going to say you’re damned forever over some past action that you feel really bad about (see Overcoming Shame). He isn’t going to say He doesn’t want you over some irrelevant fact about your earthsuit. Your soul isn’t male or female, straight or gay, fat or thin, black or white. Your soul is just a soul, and your soul is who God loves (see God’s View of Your Body).
If you ever want to establish a positive relationship with God, the day must come when you are willing to throw out everything you’ve ever learned and start fresh. Ask Him to go through your beliefs and replace the lies with truths. Ask Him to give you an accurate understanding of who He is and what He wants from you. God has wanted a positive relationship with you since the day He created you. The question now becomes: how much do you want that relationship? Are you willing to make some massive changes to your beliefs if that’s what God says is needed? If you really want to get in a good place with God, He’ll take you there. But it starts with you getting all of these human advisers and biblical writers out of your face and talking directly to God.
“I want to know You as You really are, God. I want to succeed with You and have a positive relationship with You. Please take me there.”
A prayer like this can change your life. Are you ready to get started?
The Bible isn’t perfect. Now what?
Four Ways to Identify False Teaching in the Church
Identifying False Teaching About Demons: Three Easy Tests
An Introduction to the Gods of the Bible
Relating to an Alien God