Posts

When I Thought the Bible Wasn’t Enough

Have you ever felt the need to cushion what the Bible says? Do you ever think that maybe if you rephrased some verses a certain way or glossed over a particular passage, your friends would find the gospel more acceptable?

I found myself caught in this dilemma recently.

A few months ago, I started reading through the Gospel of Luke together with two other young mothers, Stella and May. Stella is a confessed Christian, though still very young in the faith. May has been attending churches for a few years, but has still not put her faith in Christ. Both are very eager to be reading the Bible and learning together, which I thank God for.

We’ve been reading through two chapters of the Gospel of Luke together every week.

One day, I asked in passing how their weeks had gone, and Stella launched into a tirade against her mother-in-law. She had some harsh words to say about her husband as well. Her mother-in-law’s meddling had already brought them to the brink of divorce once, and was threatening to do so again.

“Divorce would be nice,” Stella mused. “Maybe my husband would hire someone to take care of our daughter. And I would be free to start my own career or something.”

I panicked. I knew what the Bible said about divorce, but I also didn’t want to scare Stella away on her second week. Still, I had to say something.

“You want to look at what the Bible says about marriage?” I suggested somewhat feebly.

I decided to stay away from some of the Bible’s very clear passages about divorce, and focused instead on the passages that celebrated marriage as God’s design (Genesis 2:21-24, Ephesians 5:21-33, etc). After all, I didn’t want to come across as judgmental or harsh. Surely, showing her the potential beauty of marriage was the better option, right?

Stella nodded along to a lot of what I was saying. “That’s the ideal, isn’t it?” she would agree. But I’m not sure she saw how all these beautiful pictures of God’s covenant heart applied in her own situation. By the time she left to pick up her daughter from kindergarten, I still wasn’t sure I had convinced her of anything.

 

The Bible Is Sufficient

Later that week I spoke with my mentor about this, and she suggested that my responsibility simply laid in showing Stella what the Bible said. After all, God’s Word is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

I should pray for God’s Word to work in Stella’s heart, but I needn’t try to be a psychiatrist, therapist or anything else that I was not. Ultimately, I was not responsible for Stella’s decisions. But I was responsible for explaining clearly what the Bible said on the topic.

With that encouragement, I knew that next time I met with Stella, I needed to go beyond simply affirming God’s design in marriage. I needed to show her the Bible’s equally clear teachings on divorce. I shouldn’t be pushy about it, but neither should I try to tone down what the Bible teaches.

As I prepared for our weekly Bible study together, I realized that the chapters we will be reading had a clear passage concerning divorce (Luke 16:18). I marveled at how God provided such a clear opportunity. I wouldn’t even need to go out of my way to introduce the topic. This further encouraged me to give Stella the full truth of what the Bible says on marriage and divorce.

During our meeting, May and Stella asked about the passage. We took the chance to also read the first part of Matthew 19, where Jesus explains further. I then simply asked Stella and May what they thought these passages meant, and asked how they thought the passages applied today.

We thought about it a bit, and Stella commented, “So Jesus was really clear about divorce. I wonder why our world accepts it so easily. We seem to be too open-minded about the topic, aren’t we?”

I blinked in surprise at the quick change of opinion, but nodded, yes. And again I marveled again at how sufficient God’s Word was. When we faithfully work through God’s Word, instead of just choosing or picking the most familiar parts, God is faithful in giving us what we needed to live a Christian life.

Of course, one Bible-reading session is not going to solve all of Stella’s struggles in marriage. But I pray that as we continue reading the Bible together, God will continue to work in our hearts and transform us day by day to be more like Him.

If you face a same situation, or struggle to share God’s truth with a friend, here are some lessons I’ve learned that may encourage you:

 

1. Trust God to persuade others of the truth

Though I have been a Christian for many years now, I am still not confident in my ability to persuade people of the truth of Christ. However, I take comfort in the fact that I don’t have to do all the explaining. Through the Bible, God has given us His full counsel. I simply have to share it with anyone willing to listen.

One of the best ways I know to do this is to simply offer to read the Bible with people. New Christians are often willing and eager to do this, and what better way to grow than to dwell in God’s Word? But even for people who might not be interested in Christianity, we can offer the Bible’s wisdom by sharing how biblical principles shape our choices and actions.

 

2. Don’t cushion or hide what the Bible actually says

When walking with others, I really need to be careful that I don’t cushion or hide anything God says in the Bible. Everything He has written—even hard teachings about divorce—is for equipping us. I betray my own lack of trust in God when I gloss over any of the teachings I find difficult. I also do people around me a disservice when I do so, depriving them of the full counsel of God.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I need to trust that Scripture in its entirety is able to “thoroughly equip” us. That’s an incredibly comforting thought. Even if a truth from the Bible may hurt a friend or family member temporarily, I have to remind myself that it will benefit them in the long run.

 

3. Work through your questions and doubts together

If I’m reading the Bible with a friend and we come across questions, instead of telling my friends what I think, I try to point them to related Scripture that could shed light on the questions. This means looking at the previous chapter or next chapter for context, or sometimes looking up passages in other places in the Bible. This is often, though not always, enough to shed light on our current passage and make the main points clear.

And if I am concerned about the way a Christian friend is acting, I often start by asking questions. Why are they doing this? What do they think the Bible says about it? Have they considered this particular passage? And so on. I do this with the hope that we can honestly look at what the Scripture says together, and that God would use His Word to work through the situation.

 

4. Ask God for help to wisdom to understand and accept His Word

There have been times where Stella, May, and I would understand a passage clearly, but simply found it hard to swallow (Luke 18:29-30, for example). In that case we need to ask for God to change our hearts.

At other times, we’d really just not understand something Jesus said or did. When looking at parallel passages or context don’t clear up the confusion, we pray about it, and move on to the next passage. I trust that God gives wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). So we will certainly understand more and more of God’s Word as we mature in our faith.

 

At the end of the day, I’m not the one equipping Stella or May. We are simply reading God’s Word together.

I encourage you to read and share the Bible with people around you as well. And I pray that as we faithfully continue to do so, sincerely seeking to understand what God has said for our benefit, then God’s Word will work in our hearts and minds.

What To Do When the Bible Is Confusing

Written By Carol Lerh, Singapore

When we ask questions about the Bible, we often learn more about God through those questions. But what do you do when you have a question, and the more you read about it, the less it makes sense?

For example, I was reading through all four Gospels when I came across Matthew 11:29, where Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” But in Mark 11, I found Jesus cursing fig trees for not bearing fruit and flipping tables in the temple. How do I reconcile these actions with His gentleness and humility?

As my doubts began to turn my confusion into disbelief, I wanted to stop reading the Bible. Even though it seems easier to do so whenever doubt arises, here are five things that have helped me deal with my confusion: 

 

1. Don’t stop reading the Bible or going to church

I’ve seen friends leave the church, and consequently leave Christianity altogether when they have unanswered questions. I remember reflecting on those same questions and being very certain that the Bible has all the answers to them. So even though my faith was shaken, I decided that I was going to stay in church, read the Bible, and question other Christians and Bible experts until I figure out for myself who God is.

It is easy to doubt that the Bible is trustworthy when you have questions about what’s written in it. But the Bible claims to be the Word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). It claims to be entirely true (Psalm 119). And it claims to be sufficient for us (2 Timothy 3:15-17). These claims are either blasphemous or true. It can’t be both. If you believe in the God of the Bible, you must believe that the Bible is the Word of God.

Though the Bible was written by different authors in different parts of the ancient world over different time periods, they all talk about the same God and the same gospel. It is an incredibly cohesive work. Historians also agree about the existence of Jesus and His crucifixion. To me, that’s enough evidence of the reliability of the Bible.

Giving up on the Bible and the church, and looking for the truth about God in other places is a mistake. Since the rest of the world has rejected God, why would they tell you the truth about God?

 

2. Pray for understanding

James 1:5 says that if anyone lacks wisdom, they can ask God. Before He died, Jesus promised that He will send us the Holy Spirit to teach us all things and remind His people of everything He taught (John 14:26). We have that Holy Spirit as our Counselor today, so let the Spirit lead. Pray and ask for wisdom, understanding, and an open heart to receive the truth.

Maybe you doubt that God will give you a definite answer. I did. I asked God to explain why it’s okay for Him to overturn tables and curse fig trees but then we have to love our enemies and not repay evil with evil. But God didn’t explain Himself to me. Instead, I was reminded of God’s reply to Job, when Job questioned God about his suffering: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (Job 38:4).

I told God it didn’t make sense.

As my questions multiplied, I began wondering why I should believe in a God who never did any of the miraculous things He did in the Bible for me. An encouraging word from someone who loves me, is that all He can do in reality?

But after praying, God showed me how He was working in this world and in my life. My mother met the same person twice on her way to the restroom after Sunday Service, and that person became my therapist. My best friend started telling me about the revelations she received from God and what God has been doing in her life. So even though I didn’t feel Him; He was working all around me. And now, looking back, I can see His footprints through my difficulties and stubbornness.

God will help you to make sense of your questions. Keep going to Him, knock on the door relentlessly, and don’t give up seeking Him with all your heart. If you wait patiently, you will see the bigger picture.

 

3. Go back to the basics

When you are faced with a confusing question, you need to have a firm foundation to stand on. What is the rock you are standing on? What do you know for sure? List the things you are certain about or that you should be certain about. Here is my list:

  • God created the world and everything was perfect. (Genesis 1)
  • Man disobeyed God and sin came into the world. (Genesis 3)
  • God came to earth as the man, Jesus, to die for our sins. (Matthew 1-2; Luke 2)
  • He died and resurrected three days later, defeating sin and death. (see any of the gospels)
  • Those who believe in him will be forgiven of their sins and have eternal life. (Matthew 26:28; John 3:16)
  • God wants us to live a holy and God-honoring life (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
  • He gives the Holy Spirit to believers to help them live that life. (John 14:16-18)

These statements might not be directly related to what you are confused about, but what begins in curiosity can quickly lead to doubting everything you thought you believed in. In these cases, I found that I need to go back to the foundation of my faith and check that it is still stable. I read about Jesus’ birth, His death and resurrection.

Knowing the essentials of your faith will help you discern truth from interpretation and opinion. This is helpful as you search for answers.

 

4. Talk to a mature Christian you trust

The Bible is the most-read book in the world, so your doubts and questions are probably not new. People who have found answers to their questions would be able to share with you what they have discovered. But it is important to look for a Christian you trust—someone you aren’t afraid to approach, and someone who knows the Bible well.

For me, that person is my father. Once, I read in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9 that God will judge all who inflict suffering. The question that came to my mind when I read this was: what if these people are also suffering themselves and didn’t mean to inflict suffering? I brought my question to my father, and we talked about God’s judgment and His mercy. He reminded me of 1 John 1:9, which says that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us of our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. That helped me make sense of the passage.

 

5. Use Internet sources wisely

If you don’t have a trustworthy Christian to turn to, you can search for answers through other reliable sources that are grounded in Scripture. My father’s answers don’t always clarify my doubts, so I use some of these resources as well.

The guideline to finding a reliable resource is to see whether the resource contradicts the basics discussed above. If it does, then it’s not reliable. If it doesn’t, then check how much Biblical content they have, and how much cross-referencing they use. For instance, if they talk about judgment in the Old Testament without making references to verses in the New Testament, then it’s probably not that reliable.

I use Constable’s Notes on Lumina at Bible.org to understand Bible passages that are confusing, as well as GotQuestions.org, which has answers to almost every question we can possibly ask about God and the Bible. I realized early on that reading blogs and opinion pieces written by random people make me even more confused, especially when they contradict what my father told me or what I find in my Study Bible. So I recommend sticking to trusted avenues with concrete statements of faith, like Desiring God or Our Daily Bread Ministries.

 

I did find an answer to my question after much prayer, reading and thinking. Jesus is God, and therefore He has an authority that we do not have. There are things that He can do that we have no right to do. After all, I did not help Him create the world, who am I to curse a fig tree when I’m also one of His creations?

I have come to the realization that there will be mysteries that we will forever be unable to comprehend, or know only partially; for we are like blind men touching different parts of an elephant. Some questions I simply have to put on a list of things to ask God when I get to heaven.

If you have any questions about God or the Bible, I’d like to encourage you to bring your doubts to God and pray about the answers you find. Don’t use your doubts as an excuse to stop reading the Bible. Read smaller chunks and give yourself more time to meditate, or use a commentary to guide you, but make sure you keep seeking Him. As long as we remain connected to God, He will work in our lives (John 15:5) and prove Himself to be true.

What to Do When the Bible Seems Boring

In November 2015, I decided that it would be a good idea to read through the Bible again. The last time I had done it was a number of years ago, and since then, I mostly hung out in the Gospels and the letters of Paul, venturing forth occasionally to Genesis and Proverbs.

It was about time I caught up on my Bible reading. I figured three or four chapters a day could get me from Genesis to Revelation in about a year. That should be simple, right?

Well, apparently not. It is now January 2017, and I am not even halfway through. What went wrong?

I started off great. On the whole, Genesis made for some pretty interesting reading, with the Creation story, Abraham, and all that. Exodus started off pretty well, but quickly got bogged down by all the rules that God laid down for the nation of Israel. Then there were more rules, followed by long lists of family names (called genealogies). I knew that if I persevered and kept reading, I would have other complaints, as I’m sure many of us do. But I just couldn’t get over the genealogies.

After setting my Bible aside too many times, I finally reached out to my friends in frustration. But I got the same response over and over again. “Just read straight through,” they said. They told me that I did not need to do in-depth study on everything—the important thing was just to read it.

Which I did. And I quickly discovered that when I do sit down and read through the more “boring” parts of the Bible (usually aloud, since that helps me stay focused), I sometimes notice things that I didn’t before. For example, I’ve read the story of how David took Uriah’s wife and sent Uriah to be killed in battle a good number of times (2 Samuel 11). What I had never noticed before was that Uriah was listed among David’s 30 mighty men (2 Samuel 23:39). These were David’s best warriors; many of them had been following him since the days of Saul. This meant that David knew Uriah personally. Suddenly, David’s sin took on even greater proportions. And God’s mercy seemed ever richer.

Of course, I don’t always notice something new. For me, the lists are often a chore to work through, and I have to fight to keep my eyes from glazing over. Time and again, I remind myself of 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

You’ll notice that Paul said “all Scripture,” not just the interesting parts. This includes the laws that God gave Israel. And all the lengthy family trees. And the obscure stories that I don’t quite know what to make of. God breathed out all of it, and all of it is useful.

Sure, there are many passages in the Bible that I still don’t get. But I’m going to take God at His word, and trust that if I keep reading and re-reading this entire book that He has given us—instead of just picking out my favorite verses or chapters—His Scripture will continue to teach, rebuke, correct, and train me in righteousness.

Think about it: during Jesus’ ministry on earth, He only had the Old Testament. And the books that He quoted from the most were Psalms and Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy! That makes me think twice about skipping it in my reading plan.

God reveals himself to us in both the Old and New testaments. He is revealed in every chapter, every paragraph, every smallest letter. Jesus told His followers, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18). That makes the Bible worth reading.

I’m in the Psalms right now. I’ll be honest: I don’t love every moment of it. Unlike the psalmist, I do not always find God’s words “more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

But I hope to one day. And in the meantime, I’ll keep on reading, trusting God to use every last letter of it to “[equip me] for every good work.”