One of the benefits of reading through different books, genres, and through both testaments of Scripture – as in a through-the-Bible reading plan – is that it gives us a more full and accurate picture of who God is. We get to see his glory from a variety of angles. However, if we expect each day’s reading to be easy to understand and easy to apply, then reading widely in Scripture can also have a different, less-desirable effect – discouragement.
When Scripture Doesn’t Seem Clear
Sometimes pastors and Christian friends tell us how clear God’s Word is, and that anyone who has the Holy Spirit can understand it, which is certainly true at one level. But that’s not always our experience. When we venture into unfamiliar books and chapters of the Bible, we’re bound to encounter passages that are difficult or confusing. Either we don’t understand what’s being said, or, even if we can make sense of the words, we can’t quite figure out what to do with them. This leaves some believers discouraged and ready to quit. They assume they’re not smart enough, or that they’re not spiritual enough (whatever that means). Or, worst of all, they begin to doubt the value of God’s Word for their lives.
Sufficiency of Scripture
If that’s you, then maybe you need a reminder your limitations and weaknesses do not jeopardize the sufficiency of God’s Word. Sure, there are mysteries and doctrines that you and I may never be able to fully wrap our heads around – what else would we expect when a God of infinite wisdom speaks to feeble and finite minds still affected by sin? – but that doesn’t mean that God hasn’t communicated clearly. As John Frame reminds us, Scripture is well-suited to the needs of all his children.
Scripture is always clear enough for us to carry out our present responsibilities before God. It is clear enough for a six-year-old to understand what God expects of him. It is also clear enough for a mature theologian to understand what God expects of him. But the clarity of Scripture . . . is person-relative, person-specific. Scripture is not exhaustively clear to anyone. It is not clear enough to satisfy anyone who merely wants to gain a speculative knowledge of divine things. It is, rather, morally sufficient, practically sufficient for each person to know what God desires of him. (1)
Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised that the riches of Scripture often require prayer, meditation, and some critical thinking on our part. But ultimately it’s not our effort that produces transformation. God is able to meet us where we are. And don’t forget that we have his Spirit (1 Cor 2:12), as well as Spirit-empowered teachers in our churches (Eph 4:11-12), to guide us. We weren’t intended to think through these truths in isolation.
So don’t give up on your Bible reading plan or your pursuit of hearing from the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Hearing from the King of the Universe is well worth the time and the effort. Even if some questions remain.
1. John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 207