Raging Bull: How the Bible Bashed my Face In
One of the most difficult tasks of the serious Bible student is to read the Bible as the word of God and not as an assignment.
Like most people, I changed major three times during my first year of college. First, I was an engineering major. This was, without doubt, the result of knowing very little about myself – something I am still guilty of. It was during the first few sessions of my Introduction to Engineering Class that I realized I was at the wrong place.
The instructor had four pockets on his shirt, all stuffed with more pens that any person could possibly have reason to carry around with them, an unrecognizable accent, scandalously high shorts, and a penchant for making terrible jokes. This is not to say that I am a snappy dresser – Target is my brand of choice – or that I tell excellent jokes – people mostly laugh at me, not with me. Likely, I imagined myself standing in his shoes one day and I knew that I couldn’t be happy there. His peculiarity just highlighted that fact. This feeling of revulsion towards engineering – again, not a bad profession, just not for everyone – ran me out of the engineering building, across a couple of court yards meant to convince those free-spirited types that college isn’t all that bad, and into the business building.
This wasn’t much better. Most people that I talk to interested in getting a business degree are in their programs mainly because they don’t like the way that “undecided” sounds. I actually agree with that. Business does sound better than undecided, but for me, that was pretty much the only difference. I was basically a ghost in the business department. I never took any of the related classes or even set foot in the business building – save to change my major from engineering to Business. The course names alone made me want to throw up. Macro and Microeconomics? No thanks, I’ll just chew on Styrofoam for a while instead.
One night, while sitting in a sermon I have already forgotten every word of, I felt the sudden calling to go get a Biblical studies degree. And I didn’t look back. I thought it meant being a pastor, and that might still be the case one day, but for now, it has put me squarely in the middle of the academic world (I don’t like to use the word “academic” because it usually puts a bad taste in people’s mouth, but for now, I don’t have a better one).
My last major change took me from the breezy campus of CSULB to the morbidly hot Biola Univeristy. I’m probably not being fair about the temperature, but living within five miles of the beach my whole life pretty much spoiled me for weather. If it’s over seventy-five degrees I assume I’m being punished for something.
While there, I began to look at the Bible in a new way. Terms like “exegesis,” “hermeneutics,” and “historical-grammatical,” began to color my reading of the Bible. Overall, this was a great thing. I was able to take the Bible more seriously than I ever had. I wouldn’t study physics or calculus, or economics – instead, I could replace those disciplines with Biblical and Theological studies. The problem arose when I began to treat the Bible more like a text than a teacher.
If you ask a believing (and honest) Bible student what he struggles with most, “reading my Bible,” is too often the answer. Now, of course he doesn’t mean actually reading the Bible. He does that everyday, for hours, in three different languages. What he means is that he doesn’t read the Bible to hear from God.
I have been, and sometimes continue to be, guilty of trying to master the Biblical text like a bull rider. I jump on its back and try and submit it to my academic goals. Eventually, the Bull bucks me off, throws me to the ground, and bashes my face in.
It is too easy for me to forget that I do not manipulate the word of God.
It does something to me. It is, as the writer of Hebrews says, “the word of God is living 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.” I am not the master of the text. I never will be. Instead, it should master me. It should change me. I should come to the word of God with the expectation that the creator of the Universe is accessible therein.