As I have sifted through my social media accounts recently, I’ve been pleasantly encouraged by the reminders to be faithfully reading the Bible this year. Many different reading plans exist and even The Gospel Coalition is urging its readers towards reading through the Bible in its entirety together as the scattered group of followers that we are.
I cannot speak highly enough of the significance of reading the Bible regularly and in community. If you haven’t already, pick a plan and find someone or many someones to read it with. Don’t neglect the Scriptures this year. There is so much more I could say.
But that is not the main reason I write to you tonight.
REFLECTING ON THE SACRED SCRIPTURES
This last year, our church read through the narrative books of the Old Testament. It was possibly one of the most formative seasons I’ve had in Scripture. I am still piecing together all that I learned and observed.
One of the things that stood out to me is how much Israel strayed from the Lord. The entire Old Testament narrative ends with Nehemiah bemoaning the people’s faithlessness yet again. It just seems like they can never hold up their own side of the covenant. And this isn’t just one person’s life. It’s thousands of years of living.
Well, I dove into the Psalms for this year, to accompany our church’s reading plan, and I stumbled across a footnote on an untranslatable word: “Selah”. Interpreters don’t know what it means. They can only guess it’s a musical or liturgical direction.
THE HUMAN SIDE
As I reflected on that simple reality — that even now, our Bible literally has words that have been lost in translation — I don’t feel threatened by it. Unlike many in our world who question the integrity and authority of Scripture, I understand now that much — oh so very much — HAS been lost to us. By the people who have gone before us who were often half-hazard in their faith in following God and at times, half-hazard in what they passed on to us. No one thought that anyone beyond their generation would ever read the Psalms and not be able to understand the word Selah. And can we blame them? I am equally half-hazard in my attempts to pass on truth and values to my own children! It is part of our fallen state that we leave things out in the process of “passing on” to the next generation. (Does this idea make you nervous about my faith in the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture? Hang tight, we will get back to this).
More than that, having read the Old Testament story, I see now that there is SO much of Gods story with His people that we don’t get to see. Generations go by without a word from God about them other than the names scattered among the genealogies.
No, the Old Testament story is not a pretty one with a bow on top. It is not a “complete season of episodes” like our favorite TV dramas. It is full of “holes” in the plot line, and words we simply do not know the meaning for. Their culture and way of life, while assumed in the writing of Scripture, is in so many ways lost to us. This is the human side of Scripture.
THE DIVINE SIDE
But the human side in all its weaknesses betrays more clearly the divine side: that Gods Word is sufficient. Just as the Old Testament shows God’s infinite mercy for His people, sovereignly guiding the affairs of His people, so too we can trust that in the Bible’s humanness, it is protected and guarded by its True Author. In this way, the Bible is sufficient. Nothing is really left out that is necessary for our continued faith and obedience. And so Peter assures us that God has given us “everything we need for life and godliness…in His divine promises…” (2 Peter 1:3-4). That means we don’t really need to know the translation of the word “Selah”.
It is equally endlessly meaningful. You can never quite plunge the depths of each chapter. Each of those genealogies and broken-up narratives hold together in an incredible uniformity of thought, despite the “holes” in the story, the untranslatable words, and the historical cultures guiding certain characteristics of its writings. No other book has stood the test of time with such integrity in its diversity. What HAS been faithfully passed on to us is incredibly consistent in its content. There was no iCloud backing up the files. It was intentionally preserved for us today through the painstaking work of God’s fallen people, guarded and protected by God Himself. No. Clearly the Scriptures are guided and driven by the Divine Hand of a Faithful, Merciful God.
So, as you dive into whatever reading plan you have for yourself this year, lean into the idiosyncrasies of Scripture. Allow those odd confusing parts to reveal the humanness of our heritage so that we may more clearly perceive and thus worship the Divine and Faithful, Gracious God leading us onward into His Beautiful Truth.
“Open the eyes of my heart that I might behold the wonders of your law.” Psalm 119:18