Does being ignorant lead us to learn or despair?

In case you were ever wondering, I write these devotionals and posts to help. Simple enough, right? My hope is that people pick up their Bibles and don’t just learn from them, but learn how to learn. I want to help people develop their own tools to study Scripture. But this can be hard because it is easy for someone like me who grew up in the church, always enjoyed Bible study from a very young age, and went to seminary to take for granted how the Bible can be a difficult read. It is impossible for me to approach Scripture the way someone who has never read it would.

Since I have read it before I can at least pass along some of what I’ve gain and with Year in the Bible I try to bring others along into a deeper appreciation for what God has blessed us with. But it is difficult because I don’t always know the questions people may have or the experiences they bring with them. I’m not always sure how something may be received, such as the use of commentaries.

I like to read a commentary as I go through and often will share insights gained from such reading. I intend for these short quotes or references to shed light on the text. There is an immense amount of study and research that goes into their writing and I think it helps illuminate Paul’s letter which was written almost two thousand years ago. But even as I write that last sentence, I fear that commentaries may intimidate and make people feel inadequate. If to “really” understand the Bible you need several degrees and endless hours to study all the scholarly writings, then how can I read the Bible? Perhaps revealing the great depth of the Bible reminds us that we’re not swimming in the kiddie pool, and then we immediately feel out of our element.

But again, I’m doing this to help and I pray that God works upon you to dispel that spirit of fear. Yes, there is great depth, but God speaks to us in his Word, he blesses us with his Spirit to aid in our comprehension. We could think about all that we don’t know and toss our hands up and walk away. Or we could see the great wisdom that God wants to show us and see its vastness as an adventure. Knowing God is not simplistic thing, but isn’t that more exciting?

If it is an adventure, let us see it as Everest and with great excitement journey together. To take that analogy further, we can recognize that there are Sherpas who guide us along, like those we’ve relied upon for 1 Corinthians like Ken Bailey or NT Wright. But we all go together. In these last few weeks we’ve read of spiritual gifts and have heard that if we do not have the same gifts as they do, that is all right. Some can be guides–teachers with knowledge and understanding. But it is a gift to be shared with the body, to equip others to seek God in his Word, as well.

So, as I write hoping to help, I pray these devotionals equip you to read, not discourages you with the notion that God’s Word is beyond your abilities. May whatever you gain inspire a sense of wonder that leads you to desire still more nourishment from God in Scripture. We’ve one month to go in reading 1 Corinthians and may the Spirit already be stirring in you a hunger to seek out what is next, and perhaps then you can be one to inspire someone else to meet God in his Word.

Is Ignorance Bliss? What would Paul say?

As a lover of history and learning in general, I’ve never really resonated with the phrase, “ignorance is bliss.” I love to learn and think ignorance is pretty far from a blissful condition. If we don’t know our history, as the saying goes, we are destined to repeat it. Certainly there is so much to learn from those who have gone before us. We can learn from their triumphs and learn from their mistakes, as well. This applies to us personally, seeing other individuals and learning from them. But it also applies to groups and churches and even nations. For example, what can we learn from Egypt and its upheaval? What could Egypt have learned from its own history and history at large that may have been able to guide them in these last couple years? Whatever that answer may be, ignorance would have been no help.

Thankfully, God have given us a fantastic book full of our own history. It is the history of God’s people and the story of God’s work among us. In this context, is ignorance bliss? Is it better to overlook the testimony of the Bible? Are we better off not knowing Adam or the judges? Should we care about Moses or the kings? The Old Testament is too often set aside, but we are worse off if we choose to be ignorant. And I think it is a choice. Perhaps if you do not know Christ and have never been to church, you haven’t necessarily chosen to be ignorant of the Scriptures. But if you are a Christian and do not know the Bible we’ve been gifted, you have made a choice to be ignorant. It is an avoidable circumstance. Every day is a new day to pick up God’s word and read. Every day we can pray for the Spirit to enlighten our minds to understand God’s truth.

Or every day we can choose ignorance. We can choose to miss out on the lessons we can learn from those who have gone before us. We can choose to turn our backs on what God says about himself in the Bible. We can be ignorant of the fact that the God of the entire cosmos came to us in Jesus Christ and revealed all we need to know. Jesus reveals God to us in the flesh and shows us the way, shows us what life really is, and shows us truth.

The letter we are reading currently, 1 Corinthians, is a letter to a specific church in Corinth as well as to the wider church community of that day. It was written almost two thousand years ago. Life was different then. I think we can underestimate that. But that doesn’t mean this letter, and other letters like it, have no bearing on us today. I would not want you to be ignorant of their struggles and of Paul’s message. The Bible is living and active and by the Spirit it speaks to us today. We ignore it at our own peril.

How much better to heed Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10, and accept an invitation to know God in his word. It is our very own history that we read. We are the seed of Abraham, heirs of the promise, and as we read from Genesis through Revelation, it is our story. At times it is frustrating as we see how far humanity can fall, but it is encouraging that our God remains faithful throughout. And to know of God’s faithfulness through the ages is a much more blissful condition than to remain in the dark about it. So let’s seek to be in the light, God’s light, learning from him and learning from the wisdom he shares with us.

Paul wants us to remember our history, which is the history of Israel

Moses strikes water from the stone, by Francesco Bacchiacca

Moses strikes water from the stone, by Francesco Bacchiacca

Our Bible reading this week is from 1 Corinthians 10:1-22. Paul begins it by encouraging the reader not to be unaware of what has gone on before us. That is a double negative that could be understood as, “I want you to know…” Paul wants his readers to know their history, so he calls to mind a few events. Maybe some did know about these events, but they weren’t on their minds. He wants them to remember and be thinking of these things as he moves along in this chapter.

But perhaps we are not as familiar with Paul’s references. If so, let’s begin this week by going back and reading through those chapters that will help us to know (to not be unaware).

To do this, read Exodus 13-17.

As you do, try to connect Paul’s references to the events found here. You could just read the few verses you may find in your cross references, but it’ll be much better to read within its context and be reminded of the larger story.

Knowing Our Own Faith

I’m reading a book in preparation for a book club at my church and it is a more narrative take on comparative religion. One thing that has struck me so far are the comments from the three lay people who represent different religions in regards to what they know and do not know about their own faith.

One has been through a religious school, another went to worship services frequently, and they have members of their family who could pass doctrine, practice, and tradition along. Yet these adults have a pretty basic understanding.

I’m not that far along in the book, so there is plenty of time for growth in these characters, but I just wonder what accounts for the limited understanding of one’s own faith, even when there have been years of being among the faith communities?

What we are undertaking with Year in the Bible is by no means a certain way to achieve perfect knowledge of Christianity, but it will certainly continue to be used by God to show us more about him. If we devote ourselves to God’s word, we won’t remain in the dark, rather he’ll shine his light upon us. When we prayerfully approach Scripture, we’re opening ourselves up to the teaching of the Holy Spirit and (I pray) we are learning much. We ought to be able to articulate what we believe and what we believe is there in the text, so let’s continue on in our reading. God wants us to know him, to know Jesus Christ, to understand what we are called to be and do, and to receive maturity in our faith.