The Bible is usually the last thing I want to face in the morning. I lie in bed in the early dawn, that netherworld between darkness and light, my phone in my hand, teetering between clicking on Facebook and clicking on my Bible app.
By Anne Kennedy
I grew up nurtured on the understanding that your morning “quiet time” in God’s Word is as important as a good breakfast. If you want to grow in body, mind, and strength, you have to face a bowl of oatmeal and your Bible before you do anything else. Now, at the age of 43, I don’t eat breakfast anymore because I’ve finally given myself permission not to bother. But the Bible—in the quiet before my children come shouting through my bedroom door—I shouldn’t give up.
Facing and resisting the Bible
But first I check Facebook, real quick, to see if I have any notifications. And then I turn on the Bible—because now it’s read to me, the voice of God joined to the voice of a man plodding, verse by verse, through the Bible—and try to stay awake.
The trouble for me is that the Bible is overfamiliar. I’ve read through it dozens of times—sometimes slowly and painfully, sometimes briskly and thoughtlessly, more and more audio rather than visual—and so I know what’s coming. I know, as I trudge through Judges, that the Levite’s concubine is just over the horizon. I know, as I relish David’s triumph over Goliath, that, just around the corner, his own son is going to brutalize his own daughter. I know that I’m going to become thoroughly depressed in the middle of Jeremiah. And when I get to the cross? To the long prayer of Jesus in John’s Gospel? My finger hovers over the app while I wonder if I’m going to be able to face—all over again—his death. So sometimes, too often, in fact, I click away, or go back to sleep and avoid it with my whole body, soul, mind, and strength.
For those who have never faced the Bible, I would expect the resistance to be just as great, though for different reasons. The language—no matter what translation you try—is unfamiliar. The world of the Bible is ancient, far removed from the dizzying pace of modern life. The people have complicated and difficult names. There are different styles of writing. As you are flying along through a gripping story—Hannah and her bitterly unhappy relationship with her husband’s other wife, Peninah—you are arrested, suddenly, and presented with a long section of poetry, which can, by the end of 20 verses, seem repetitive. “Didn’t she say that a few lines ago?” you might say to yourself. Does she have to say it again? And then, of course, when you come to the difficult bits—whether you expect them or not—you may find yourself shocked and confused, perhaps even horrified (see 1 Samuel 1-2).
So why bother? Why should I pry my mind and my eyes open and read the Bible? Why should someone try for the first time? What can be gained by reading the words or listening to someone else read them?
God’s presence in his Word
Well, first and foremost, I should bother because God promises to be there—in the very lines themselves—when I face them. “Seek the LORD while he may be found” cries Isaiah, “call upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). God himself promises to supersede the distance between our own narrow ways of thinking and being, and his own expansive view. He draws near to us when we don’t even want to draw near to him. And the way he draws near is through his own Scriptures.
Why? Because he knows us. He knows we are caught in darkness, teetering between ourselves and him, between Facebook and the morning routine, between darkness and light. As the thumb hovers over another app, God calls from the page: “… let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (verse 7).
Isaiah shifts from telling the reader about God to quoting God directly:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:8-11 NRSV)
God is so committed to language and communication that he uses it as providentially and kindly as he uses the weather. The weather is his gift—the rain and snow—to bring about the food and harvest upon which we depend day by day. So also his Word. He comes right down to the page; he even describes himself as the Word, the Word who was “made flesh” and who came to live with us. Whenever you read the Bible, he himself leaps out and makes himself known.
And, very much as we experience in human relational communication, he does so in the intimate, and to my mind, disorganised way of catching me off my guard when I am least expecting it. One word or line will go right to the heart of my troubles and worries, will tip me over toward him as I teeter between anxiety and fatigue. There, on the page, I find some bright gem, some piece of the puzzle. I can take it away and meditate on it and see how its reflected and refracted light illumines the ever-emerging picture of his person.
Because, as I lie there in the grey dawn, the only hope I have for my life is to put myself in the hands of Jesus—the Word—who supersedes my own ugliness and confusion with himself. For all the difficult bits are true reflections of me, of where I would be if he did not hold on to me by the power of the words themselves, by his own life. In the gloom of the morning, his gracious voice in the quiet as I listen to his Word strengthens my limbs, readies my heart, and enlivens my mind to follow after him.