That clip is from one of my favorite movies, the 70s screwball comedy "What's Up Doc?" It takes place in the courtroom scene at the end of the film where Ryan O'Neil's hapless character is trying to explain the unbelievable (and hilarious) series of events that have transpired over the previous 90 minutes. The judge's wish to "skip over this part" became a catch phrase in our household growing up whenever we encountered something unpleasant or confounding.
As I continue this series of posts about the spiritual disciplines, this clip reminds me of our approach to Scripture. The Bible, in its two Testaments, 66 books and no fewer than 2 dozen different types (genres) of literature, can be a bewildering read. Many of us, influenced in large part by the preaching we have received, gravitate towards the New Testament and Psalms. Fully 2/3 of our Bibles are darkened to our minds as we rarely (if ever) look at them.
I understand why this is the case. The laws of Moses, especially Leviticus, can be horribly perplexing when they aren't downright boring. They strike us as antiquated and in some cases unjust. The prophets use imagery that is alien to us, speak of nations and kingdoms that no longer exist, and their oracles often seem like unsolvable riddles. The wisdom literature is oftentimes little better and while we know the story of Job, his dialogue with his friends can seem repetitive and inaccessible to us. Even the historical books, which contain narratives that should be easier to grasp, can be challenging with the complicated stories of political intrigue that often seem far removed from having very much to do with God and His plan, to say nothing of the genealogies of Genes and Chronicles and the land distribution registry that takes up 10 chapters of Joshua. All of this leads us to have Bibles that are well-marked where Paul or John is the author, but that have huge sections where the pages have never seen daylight.
When it comes to the discipline of the Word, there are numerous ways to interact with it. I broadly think in terms of contemplative disciplines and cognitive disciplines. Cognitive disciplines seek to fill our minds with the truths of Scripture to inform our thinking. Among these disciplines are reading, study, memorization, preaching and teaching (providing and hearing). Contemplative disciplines seek to fill our hearts with the truths of Scripture to inform our affections and wills. Among these are meditation, prayer and praise, life application, and devotional reading. Simple reading is one of the cognitive disciplines and is, of necessity, our starting point for any of the others.
Paul, in his farewell charge to the Ephesian elders reminded them that as an essential feature of his ministry he "did not shrink from declaring to [them] the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). In other words, God has made known His will, purpose and decrees throughout history and particularly preserved much of that revelation in what we refer to as "The Bible". To expose ourselves primarily to less than 1/3 of it is dangerous as we will certainly miss some things. We will also become prone to be selective in what we choose to hear God say to us. In other words, we reach a point where we want to "skip over this part".
I have taken this charge from Paul directly to heart in how I plan my preaching calendar each year. The Word is always about Jesus in some way, so each year we spend the time between Advent and Resurrection Sunday in a Gospel. The rest of the year we spend time in one Old Testament narrative (going through them chronologically), one non-narrative Old Testament series (Wisdom, Law, Prophet, etc.) and one New Testament epistle. This "balanced diet" is complemented by the fact that, other than the gospels, I will not preach a book twice until I've from every book at least once. This has produced the "12 year plan" for my preaching that we are now four years into. My goal is to remove some of the obstacles to our grasping of certain parts of Scripture and to equip us to be confident to hear God's voice from every part of His book.
So let me encourage you to evaluate your discipline of reading. It is not necessary to understand fully everything you read, that is for the discipline of study. It is not necessary that you immediately make sense of how to obey what you read, that is for the discipline of application. It is not necessary that you feel your heart warmed to God by what you read, that is for the discipline of devotion. It is an act of humility to yield ourselves to His word simply because it is His word. We should expect that it will often not be immediately appealing to us. He had to speak precisely because we are in error. So regard the difficulties as an invitation to look closer rather than looking away. If there are portions of Scripture you have never read, or only read once or twice, consider starting there. Consider a one year plan to read the whole Bible through (there are numerous options for this, and I have created my own if you are interested). Whatever you do, I encourage you to read the Book and don't be surprised if there is something significant in the parts you may have been tempted to skip over before.
May God add to the reading of His Word!
Marcus Little is the Senior Pastor of Berean Baptist Church. This blog is a place where he can share his thoughts and reflections on how Scripture intersects with life, work, community, culture and the events of our times.