I am not a Bible scholar. I don’t have a Bible quote for every occasion. In fact, the quotes I have memorized could all fit on the back of a business card. And I like it that way. Why? Because every time someone throws a Bible quote at me, it feels like a brick. Not in terms of its impact (I’m pretty immune to them now) but in the sense that a brick is an undifferentiated mass. If you break a brick in half, there is no insight hidden inside of it. It’s just more brick. And Bible quotes, especially when hurled, don’t illuminate the actual teachings—they just turn them into bricks.
While I can’t quote the Bible verbatim, I do feel like I get the gist of what it has to say. And if I had to choose whether to get the gist or be able to recite numerous passages by heart, well…I’d choose gist every time. Because it’s one thing to know what a book says, and another to understand what it says. Understanding trumps knowing any day of the week.
There is a simple way to learn the Bible, not just what it says, but what it means. But first, let’s be clear about meaning: you cannot know what a thing means until you know what it means to you. This might sound obvious, but it really isn’t. Not when it comes to learning the Bible. So many people have interpreted Scripture that the interpretations have taken over. And most Bible study programs start with the interpretations. Why is this bad? Because it denies you the opportunity to form your own opinion, to make your own associations, to relate what the Bible says to what you already know about life. In other words, you have to start from where you are, not from someone else’s point of view.
For example, if you take the saying, “Turn the other cheek,” what in your life can you relate that to? What experience have you had where this teaching of Jesus could apply? There is probably an incident bubbling to the surface right now, right? How did you handle the situation? Did you react, or did you consider your options? Does the incident linger as a moment of cowardice or a moment of shame? Can you take Jesus’ saying and sit with it—let it sink in? How does it apply to what happened to you?
You see, this is what it takes to study the Bible. You have to think about it. And not in intellectual terms, necessarily, but in terms of your gut.
Thinking is not easy. It’s far easier to just memorize. And not just thinking about something, but to reflect on it. How does it apply in my life? This is a form of meditation, sitting with an idea as though it were a living presence, like another person sitting in the room with you. Very few words, but lots of sensing, lots of being with. What does it say to you, what does it evoke?
What other sayings can you think of? How about, “I and my Father are one.”? Is there a place in you that can say this as Jesus said it, with knowing and legitimacy? Does it only apply to Jesus, as the Bible scholars would have you believe? Was this an historical statement, or was it a universal truth? If you sit with these words as I have described, and take them just as they are without interpretation, what happens? What inner reality do they evoke? Can you enter into the reality of what the words say?
If you do this, you will see that the teachings of the Bible perform a kind of alchemical function—they are designed not to inform but to transform. The teachings of the Bible are the Bread of Life, not a philosophy. You don’t need to get it with your head. But once you get it in your gut, your head will catch up.