I have a love-hate relationship with topical Bible study materials. Which might, in fact, be the most heretical thing I’ve said this year. Because they are our staple in the evangelical world, aren’t they?
I’m not saying they’re all bad, so don’t get defensive. I’ve done a lot of growing under some really good studies, and I know God uses them immensely.
But then the Hard Years came. And all I knew to do was to look for a book or a Bible study. I read a theological book on suffering. I leafed through Bible studies on depression. I stared long and hard at Beth Moore’s smile on the cover of Get Out of that Pit, and never could be compelled to go further than the first page.
Bible verses were tossed at me – especially Romans 8:28 (“God works all things for the good…”) and they bounced off my steel exterior. It all seemed trite and unpromising and irrelevant to what I was suffering. It’s not that the Bible is irrelevant to those who suffer, but when you’re in the grips of something dark, every word seems either to mock you or to not be enough.
It’s as if our answer to every difficulty and every sin is to know more about it, to know more about what God says about it. This is certainly helpful pre-emptively and then again after the struggle has begun to die down. But sometimes you can know all the Bible verses about it and know the theological acrobatics routine, and none of it helps.
So what to do when you see a loved one suffering, questioning God, and saying potentially explosive things?
You tell them you love them.
You give them a hug.
You call often to check up on them and take them with you to get coffee.
You don’t avoid the topic, but you don’t beat them over with it. Gently lead with questions, and if they are unresponsive, let it lie for now.
You invite them over for a meal, or bring one over and share it with them.
You let them know that they are not forgotten.
You give them time and space and permission to be angry and grieve. You don’t rush them through all of it to make yourself more comfortable around them.
You pray for them.
You see, sometimes, we push and push ourselves away so far from God’s love, and we become convinced that we cannot be brought back. We don’t need Bible studies or Bible verses tossed like grenades into our tender territory. We don’t need to know more about the problem. We need someone else to incarnate the words from Scripture, to be the love that we don’t believe in.
And I think this goes for most of life, not just times of suffering and grief. Rather than (or perhaps in addition to) starting a men’s Bible study/ministry on porn and sexual issues, stand side-by-side with men who struggle with this when Bible verses on purity ring dim, and show them the unconditional love that the Father has toward them. Plow slowly through their issues with them.
Know a young wife who is navigating the strange new world of marriage? Invite her into your home – messy and teeming with children and never-ending laundry – and let her see you live those words about service and diligence and submission. Because when she reads Proverbs 31 on the page, she might be tempted to picture a woman who has it all together, when she can barely cook a meatloaf. But if she can picture you – doing the hard daily work of wiping bottoms and burning dinner and disciplining with love and picking his stupid socks off the floor day after weary day without grumbling - then she will have a better understanding of what a wife of noble character is: a Jesus-woman, not a trophy wife.
And no, it doesn’t fit well with our lifestyle. It takes time and sacrifice, and did I mention time? But maybe if we can make baby steps in this, if we can stop relying on Bible studies and programs for the answers, maybe the love and truth of Christ can come be embodied in us.
The point is not to drop Scripture as our frame-of-reference for life. We need these holy words. The point is to embody them for others who cannot read the Scriptures and absorb the truths there.
Have you ever gone through a time when Bible studies or Scripture seemed hollow? Were there Christians who embodied for you until you believed again?
What else would this look like?
Photo cc by Ed Yourdon on Flickr.