Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why do we read Scripture?

Gregory Alms in his good blog Incarnatus Est spoke about the total inadequacy of the term Bible study and he drew on the larger issue of why we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of the Lord.  I fear that many of us as Lutherans have lost touch with the sacramentality of Scripture and we read it the wrong way and for the wrong reasons.  Now there is no denying that even when we read Scripture wrongly, it is not without power to address our hearts by the power and powerful Spirit who works through that Word.  Nevertheless (dontcha just love that word!), if we remember why we read the Word of the Lord, our reading is even more salutary.

We live in an age in which we consume knowledge -- although we often confuse opinion with knowledge and we forget to distinguish what we think or feel from what is true.  We are surrounded by knowledge.  The average home houses a veritable library of books, magazines, and newspapers.  With our connection to the vast world of knowledge through the internet, we are masters of facts, factoids, and trivia.  But for all our knowledge, we are remarkably unchanged by what we know.  We tend to read things that are in support of our own thinking.  We encounter tons of facts and deal with a treasure trove of information that we will probably never use.  Ask my kids when we are all in the car on a trip, jointly working on a crossword puzzle.  My mind is filled with useless knowledge that seems easily retrievable and yet the things I need seem lost in my gray matter.

We do not read Scripture to memorize it (that is not to say memorization is bad but only that we do not read it simply to have an encylopedic mastery of its words).  We do not read Scripture in order to systematize it and reorganize its wisdom into a scaffolding of things that fit together (systematic theology has for years tried to make the Scripture and the God of this Scripture conform to a nearly organized outline -- something He simply refuses to do).  We do not read Scripture simply for the knowledge of Scripture (the way we read informational texts for trying to put together the stuff we bought at Wal-Mart).  We do not read Scripture because we will be tested on this information (the way we read a textbook for a quiz or test).

We read Scripture to hear it.  We read it because it is the voice of God -- not the dusty, dry, old voice of things long past and done but the living voice of the God who was, who is, and who is to come.  We read it because it is efficacious -- it does what it promises and delivers what it says.  We read it because we yearn to hear it, to listen to it, to be fed and nourished by it.  We read it because it defines us and it defines our world and it tells us who we are, if we are valued and loved, and why we were created (in the image and likeness of this Divine Word).  We read it because we are servants of the Word and not merely its students -- we are hearers and doers of that Word.  We read it because it is His means of grace (at least one of them) through which He works, through which He bestows His grace and mercy, and in which we see Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord who is and who gives life and salvation.

I admit that I have a great many fears about what often passes for Bible study and for the way we often pay attention to the Word read in worship.  We have forgotten our posture with respect to this living Word.  We treat Scripture as if it were a nut to be cracked or truths to be organized or wisdom to be contemplated or facts to be learned or knowledge/insights to be gained.  What we should be doing is listening with the ears of faith to the voice of life.  What God seeks from us more than anything else is simply the "amen" of faith to what He has said and done, what He speaks and does, and what He will always say and do.  Our familiarity with Scripture helps us see Jesus Christ and Him crucified, THE message of this living Word about the Word made flesh that gives to its words the power of the Word, by the Holy Spirit.  We do not become its masters or even its equals -- not if we memorize every blessed word on the page!  We are always the ears who listen and hear that we may be mouths to speak what is said to us and lips that affirm "amen" to these words of the Word.

Perhaps we have forgotten that when the readings (are they really lessons?) are announced, it is not information on where to find them but a way of telling us what the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom put so eloquently:

Deacon: Wisdom! The reading is from . . . . Let us attend! 


Priest: Wisdom, stand aright! Let us listen to the Holy Gospel. Peace to all. Choir: And to thy spirit.
Deacon: The Reading is from the Holy Gospel of N.
Choir: Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.
Priest: Let us attend.
   The Deacon reads the Gospel.
Priest: Peace to thee who hast announced the glad tidings.
Choir: Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee. 

Wisdom!  Let us attend!  In the Divine Service, in devotion alone, in family prayer, in Bible "study" -- Let us attend!


Anonymous said...

The purpose of God's Word is not
merely INFORMATION about our eternal
salvation in Christ. Ultimately,
God's Word must touch our hearts and
TRANSFORM our lives in Christ.

God's Word helps to change our lives,
our thoughts, and our actions. It
shapes our lives to become a new
person in Christ. God's Word is
the means of grace to develop a
a personal relationship with Christ.

Janis Williams said...

."...we often confuse opinion with knowledge...'

Scripture is all to often treated:

AS opinion - just try to tell the Gospel to a post-modern college student

WITH opinion - e.g. the Jesus Seminar.

Anonymus, I don't want to seem picky, but God's Word does not "help" change our lives; IT changes us. It is efficacious, as Fr. Peters says.

Frank Sonnek said...


"transform, change, develop"

Anonymous, In your baptism you ARE , right here and now completely holy in Christ.

Being holy is like being pregnant. One is or one is not. In your baptism you ARE holy and sanctified.

Now aso you are so right! the Law in the Word of God does transform us. It preserves and nourishes our faith without our doing anything at all. And then there is this: It kills us in our Old Adam! your part in sanctification is to die anonymous. it is to die to your Old Adam.

There is no life in your part. there is only death. This is to accept the judgement of God and not to flee it by trying harder or believing or thinking the "right way" and so to become more "spiritual".

Instead faith puts the Works of Christ to work by hiding our own faith, repentence, right thinking that saint Isaiah calls the spiritual equivalent of a used tampon. Yeah that is gross. But it is exactly what Isaiah calls our most sanctified works that we do. We hide all these works of ours behind the Work of Christ. That is what faith alone knows to do!

Janis Williams said...

Mr. Sonnek,

Amen! I meant to add a post saying something of the sort, but you have said it so well, I need not post again.