I was sharing an event with a friend, Susie Hamilton from Christian Aid, recently and as I had a passage of Scripture to read, I asked her if she would be reading anything, in case we read the same thing. With a smirk and the hugest dollop of irony she said, “Oh no, I don’t read the Bible, I just live it!”
We laughed, but I have not been able to get it out of mind ever since. It amazes me still that we both thought that the weakness or spiritual dubiousness of the statement was that she didn’t read the Bible. That she lived it was never going to balance up the judgement of the suspicion such a phrase would hold over the credibility of her walk with God. It is actually staggering that we have come to laugh at her throw away line rather than get to s stage in our lives where that is actually not ironic but true.
Indeed what has become even scarier to me in my reflections on this sentence has been the idea that actually for us Christian living has far more to do with reading the Bible than in living it. When we set down the precepts of Christian living that old children’s chorus “Read your Bible and pray every day if you want to grow” almost concludes that the growth will be more reading the Bible and more prayer rather than going to live the Bible and answer the prayers.
Now please do not get me wrong. I am not saying that we should not read the Bible. Indeed if we stop to analyse it there is no way you can live it without having read it. What I am contending and provoking my own soul with is the time we give to the reading of it and the time we give to the living of it. Is there a balance? Are we being distracted from the living of it by the amount of virtue we have given to the reading of it.
“Justification by the quiet time” is a 20th century ailment. Until the last century there was no way that every believer could have access to Bibles or the resources of daily reading notes now readily available in Christian bookshops and the vestibule on the way out of Church. Literally believers had a very different relationship with God’s word in centuries past than we have now. Maybe those who couldn’t read it had no other option but to relate to it by living what they heard read or preached on in Church. The absolute blessing of the Quiet Time idea may have become a curse in not only distracting us from acting upon what we read but also by filling us with a sense of duty to3wards the revelation of God and worse again the burden of guilt by not taking time to read it.
Which brings me to another conversation with another friend. This time in a discussion group on cyberspace someone was lamenting how they had been shamed into realising they had left their Bible unopened on the Washing Machine from Sunday throughout most of the week. How I wished! I wished that I could leave the Bible sitting in my Utility Room and ignore it the rest of the week. Sadly, it goes so much with me that there is not a movie, not a book, not a song, not a newspaper article not a conversation where that book does not have its say in my response. It is what makes life particularly tricky at times. It is a daily experience of mine to watch the pages of the Bible flicking across to stop at a truth that is relevant to a conversation or more likely to point me to decision making challenge.
I remember reading a letter in the Belfast Telegraph where someone was suggesting that Christians could not forgive their enemies in Northern Ireland (automatically assumed to be the IRA) before they repented. The specifics were that until the IRA decommissioned all its weapons then we had no obligation to negotiate with them or try to reach out in mercy and grace to them in the name of peacemaking. If only I didn’t have to love my enemies until they become like me my life would be so much easier. If I could leave the Bible on a washing machine I would be okay but immediately I read this letter its pages were opening in my soul and flicking across to Jesus on the cross saying, Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Now if He forgives those who murdered him even when they did not realise they were doing wrong what does that say to us about the need to forgive even our enemies. You see the Bible refuses to be left down.
Again that points out a relationship with Scripture. It is not words on a page that are read. It is truth that lives as part of my entire worldview. It remains open all day long. It should never be restricted to the leather covers and gold etched pages but should become a part of us. In his letter Paul encouraged the Colossians to “let the word of God dwell in you richly (3 v 16).” He never told them to read it every day. He told them to get to know it so well that it would never be left down.
That means reading it until it becomes a part of us. I used to read it for hours and I have to confess I don’t read it in that same way anymore. I feel my relationship has changed. Do not get me wrong, I am not encouraging a familiarity with the text that makes us felt hat we know it all and do not have to read it ever again. Not at all, I am thankful though and sometimes well annoyed that the Holy Spirit has now embedded enough of it on the computer of my soul that he can call up all kinds of dynamics of dilemma right throughout my day.
So where do we aim. I want to not be a reader of it so much as a liver of it. I do not want to be able to leave one passage on the washing machine. It is a Word that I long to make flesh, to live in every moment of my day and night. So Susie I am not laughing anymore. Your humour and irony has changed into the most serious of truth.