The Bible – To Read Or Live?

At an event where I was speaking, I asked the other speaker, Susie Hamilton from Christian Aid, if she would be reading a passage of Scripture, in case we read the same thing. With a smirk and a huge dollop of irony she said, “Oh no, I don’t read the Bible, I just live it!”


We laughed, but I have not been able to get it out of mind ever since. It’s amazing how spiritually dubious it sounded to hear her say she didn’t read the Bible. The suspicion of such a phrase overshadowed the fact she actually lives out what it says.

What is scary is the idea that Christian living has far more to do with reading the Bible than in living it. When we set down the precepts of Christian living, that old children’s chorus “Read your Bible and pray every day if you want to grow” almost concludes that Christian living is more about studying theology than walking in relationship.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we should not read the Bible. Technically, you can’t live it without reading it. But contrast the amount of time you give to the reading of the Word by the time you give to the living of it. Is there a balance? Are you being distracted from the living of it by the amount of virtue you have given to the reading of it?

“Justification by the quiet time” is a 20th century ailment. Until the last century believers didn’t have the amount of access to Bibles or the resources of daily reading notes now readily available in Christian bookshops and the vestibule on the way out of Church. Literally believers had a very different relationship with God’s word. Maybe those who couldn’t read it had no other option but to relate to it by living from what they heard read or preached on in Church. The absolute blessing of the Quiet Time trend may actually be a curse by distracting us from acting upon what we read, and worse, filling us with the burden of guilt by not taking time to read it.

Which brings me to conversation with another friend. In an online discussion group, someone was lamenting how they had been shamed into realizing they had left their Bible unopened on the washing machine from Sunday through most of the week. How I wished! I wished that I could leave the Bible sitting in my utility room and ignore it the rest of the week. Sadly, it goes so much with me that there is not a movie, not a book, not a song, not a newspaper article not a conversation where that book does not have its say in my response. It is what makes life particularly tricky at times. It is a daily experience of mine to watch the pages of the Bible flicking across to stop at a truth that is relevant to a conversation or more likely to point me to decision making challenge.

I remember reading a letter in the Belfast Telegraph where someone was suggesting Christians could not forgive their enemies in Northern Ireland (automatically assumed to be the IRA) before they repented. The specifics were that until the IRA decommissioned all its weapons then we had no obligation to negotiate with them or try to reach out in mercy and grace to them in the name of peacemaking. If only I didn’t have to love my enemies until they become like me my life would be so much easier. If I could leave the Bible on a washing machine I would be okay, but immediately I read this letter its pages were opening in my soul and flicking across to Jesus on the cross saying, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Now if He forgives those who murdered him even when they did not realize they were doing wrong, what does that say to us about the need to forgive even our enemies? You see the Bible refuses to be left down.

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Again that points out a relationship with Scripture. It is not just words on a page that are read. It is truth that lives as part of my entire worldview. It remains open all day long. It should never be restricted to the leather covers and gold etched pages but should become apart of us. In his letter, Paul encouraged the Colossians to “let the word of God dwell in you richly” (3 v 16). He never told them to read it every day. He told them to get to know it so well that it would never be left down.

That means reading it until it becomes a part of us. I used to read it for hours, and I have to confess I don’t read it in that same way anymore. I feel my relationship has changed. Do not get me wrong, I am not encouraging a familiarity with the text that makes us feel we know it all and do not have to read it ever again. Not at all, I am thankful though and sometimes well annoyed that the Holy Spirit has now embedded enough of it on the computer of my soul that he can call up all kinds of dynamics of dilemma right throughout my day.

So where do we aim? I want to not be a reader of it so much as a doer of it. I do not want to be able to leave one passage on the washing machine. It is a word that I long to make flesh, to live in every moment of my day and night. So Susie, I am not laughing anymore. Your humor and irony has changed into the most serious of truth.

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