A woman is reading bible with a doubtful face

What Reading a “Messed-Up” Book in the Bible Taught Me

By Evelyn Faith Ogungbemi, Russia

Last summer, our campus fellowship organised a Bible quiz based on the book of Judges. I thought this was an interesting choice as I’d never really paid much attention to this book. I started to read it so I could learn the details for the trivia.

Soon I was telling myself it was for good reason that this book wasn’t “popular”, as it seems quite messed up. My friends and I spent a few evenings talking about how violent some of the scenes were, and how they didn’t seem to belong in the Bible! The degradation, the oppression, the filth, the mess! It was just unacceptable!

I couldn’t help but wonder: What was God trying to do by showing us all these messy stories? Why would such a holy God reveal the imperfection of His people in such an uncensored way?

Then it hit me. God knows the real us, and His holiness isn’t like how we perceive holiness, whereby we would hide away what’s unsightly. To God, our sinfulness is like how this book presents it, clear as day and terrible. He wants us to see the full extent of humanity’s sinfulness, so we can see how much we needed His saving grace.

I didn’t know I needed this lesson until God pointed it out to me:

 

1. God doesn’t give up on my mess

Throughout the book of Judges, Israel repeatedly struggled with idolatry, following the Canaanites in worshipping other gods and learning their evil practices, despite the fact that God had rescued them so many times. Still, even as God became angry with them, He did not stop giving them opportunities to turn back to Him.

The past year has revealed my own idolatry in ways I didn’t expect—whether it’s choices and ambitions that don’t reflect God’s glory, or insisting on my way in relationships, I realised how often I prioritise my pleasure and satisfaction above love for God and others.

Thankfully, through persistent reminders from the Scripture and my godly community, I am brought back to the truth that only God can truly satisfy. He goes the extra mile, sending His Word from the Bible and specific guidance from fellow Christians, to steer me back and restore my peace and fulfilment in Him.

Even though, just like the people in Judges, I too repeatedly go astray, God has reminded me that He doesn’t give up on me.

 

2. I shouldn’t give up on others either

I often get frustrated when I think about how unbelievers would view the church if we don’t present ourselves as “blameless”—faultless. Whenever a highly respected Christian falls publicly because of misconduct or because they decide to leave the faith, I start to think, “The non-believers definitely have a reason to not believe now.”

While we are called to live a holy life and we should diligently work towards this, my worries about the Church’s failings tend to make me place these burdensome expectations of perfection not only on the “popular” believers but also on myself and the Christians that surround me.

But when I am reminded of the people in the Bible that we might consider “unfit” for God—Samson (brash and weak-willed), Gideon (weak and insecure), Jacob (deceitful), Peter (who denied Jesus!), Paul (who killed Christians!)—I am shown that God’s saving grace has nothing to do with how close we are to being “perfect” and “blameless”. His power and will to save cannot be hindered even when believers fail to behave as expected.

The fact that we have yet to attain picture-perfect holiness doesn’t invalidate our devotion to God nor our ministry to the unreached. This is important because it gives me hope that I can continue to share about Jesus with others.

As I learn to embrace the mercies of God and grow patience for my own mistakes, I’m learning that same compassion for the inadequacies of Christians around me and for the body of Christ as a whole.

 

3. The big picture is surrender

After the book of Judges, you’d think God would wipe out the world since we humans are so messy, but throughout history, God continuously works to make us realise, in the face of chaos and confusion, that our only option is to surrender and obey Him.

When I celebrated my 21st birthday in June, I was facing the busiest month ever—in between medical school exams and several jobs I had committed to, I was quietly yet consistently drawn to this verse:

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)

When I get overwhelmed with the demands of life, I’m reminded that what He wants is for me to focus on pleasing Him and growing daily in surrender, and to faithfully complete what He places in my hands.

I am simultaneously God’s masterpiece and a work-in-progress, and He is sorting through my insufficiencies and teaching me daily dependence. There are days where He’s teaching me to accept myself and other believers that haven’t figured things out yet, and there are days when He’s actively moulding a better character in me by enabling me to show grace in difficult situations.

My relationship with God is one of continued trust and surrender—to listen to what He’s saying about my situation, obey, and let Him do His work in me. I know one day I will see the full picture (1 Corinthians 13:12).

And on the days I don’t match up, I know His mercy is always there to catch me, and to mend the brokenness and imperfections. Remembering and seeing how God perseveringly works in us is a beautiful testimony of His indescribable, amazing grace.

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