Everyday Awe

Sometimes I don’t understand the Bible

Sometimes the Bible is confusing.


Can we admit that more often?


So much time in the Christian world is spent explaining meanings. Making points. Tying strings together. We talk and write and preach about how much we know and how much we see and how much we can learn.


I love that stuff, to be honest. In fact, I subscribe to podcasts so I can listen to more than one sermon a week. Seriously.


But can we stop pretending that we always understand? Can we be vulnerable enough to admit that sometimes we read the Bible and we don’t get it?


vulnerable approach to the bible


I don’t get Psalm 41.


I have a seminary degree. I work at a church. I have been studying the Psalms for over a year. Yet still, my response to Psalm 41 is, “Hmmm… whatchya doin’ there, God?”


It begins:


Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!
The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble.
The Lord protects them
and keeps them alive.

He gives them prosperity in the land
and rescues them from their enemies.
The Lord nurses them when they are sick
and restores them to health. –Psalm 41:1-3


All I can think is, “But what about the times God doesn’t?” There are many people who have dedicated their existence to helping the poor whose lives have been difficult as a direct result of that choice.


There are things that were true for ancient Israel that are not true for us today. God made a covenant with them: He was their God and they were His people. Attached to that covenantal relationship were rules, which were connected to promises. If Israel ran itself with the grace and justice in line with God’s character, God committed to bless them in return.


So, perhaps this kind of clear correlation between action and blessing makes sense in that time. But then, what do we do with it now?


I’m not exactly sure.


Jesus asks us to help the poor, but He also tells us we will be persecuted for our faith in Him. The promise is now of God’s presence, not of God’s blessing. Surely, that presence is a wonderful thing, but sometimes I wish actions, consequences, and rewards would be a little more linear.


The Psalm then goes from a section I don’t know how to apply to a section I don’t know how to understand.


David talks of an illness he had and how his enemies gloated over him. What does that have to do with verses 1-3? I don’t see the connection.


Also included in that lament is a wish that God would make David well again, so that David could pay his enemies back.


Again, this request has an appropriateness because David is the king of God’s covenant nation. Therefore, an attack on the king is therefore an attack on God. This means there were different operating orders than Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies.


But that still leaves the question: what do we do with verses like this today?


I don’t know.


And that is okay. It is okay to read the Bible and come away with the answer, “I don’t know.”


The Bible is not a map. The Bible is not a rulebook. The Bible is a story.


It is the story of a vibrant and powerful God filled with compassion for a broken and hurting humanity. It is a story of creation and sin and commitment and rescue. Of purpose and hope ushered in with a Love made flesh. It is a beautiful and amazing and deep and true story.


I cannot expect that any verse I choose from any part of that Story will have a perfect correlation and application to my life today. That is a selfish perspective on God’s Word. These verses are part of something much grander than my individual life.


When I read the Bible, even if I find the pieces confusing or frustrating, that does not change the power of the whole.


So, my conclusion today is that I don’t understand Psalm 41. And I am okay with that.


walk through the psalmsWalk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.


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  • http://twitter.com/claygirlsings Janice S

    It was good to really dig in and study this passage, since it didn’t immediately click with me. I learned several interesting things along the way, but chose to focus on only one. Did I miss the linky? Here’s my Ps. 41 post: http://claygirlsings.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/when-a-friend-betrays-you/

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      Sorry, Janice- I didn’t notice that the link up didn’t work. It was up in the preview. I’m not sure what happened. Anyway, I fixed it now. Please add your link when you are able!

      I’m glad you dug in and studied some more. That’s what I love about the discipline of walking through one at at time. Sometimes, it’s a stretch. And, it’s good to be stretched. I also think focusing on one aspect of the Psalm is a great approach- especially when they feel disjointed like this one.

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

    LOVE this! I always find it amusing when people say the Bible is easy to understand. I’m like, well, I’ve studied it way more in depth than you have, and I don’t think it is so easy, but whatever. It’s almost like we have to hide saying it’s hard to understand because if we think that, then people will think we’re not “mature” enough in our faith or something.

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      Thanks Kelly! I think one of my biggest take-aways from seminary was the realization of how much I didn’t know. We should all feel more comfortable admitting that. Just as the existence of doubt does not mean a lack of faith, the existence of questions does not mean lack of knowledge.

      • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

        In a similar vein to the comment I posted on Kelly’s blog this morning, the Holy Spirit can work with “I don’t know” a whole lot easier than with certainty. One is stiff-necked, the other is steerable.

  • http://twitter.com/kikimojo kirsten oliphant

    I read this Psalm last night before bed (after seeing your Tweet) and closed the Bible up saying, “Well. Sure can’t wait to hear what Stephanie has to say about THIS Psalm.” What you wrote is a lot of how I felt reading it. I don’t know what to do with that blessings to good works tie that was covenantal then and not so much now. Or that same jump between a sort of wisdom-y Psalm to a lament…yeah. So, cheers to saying truth–we don’t always know what to do with things. And sometimes that’s okay. I think we can still find some comfort in this Psalm, but as a whole, it’s one that I kind of want to pass over. That’s maybe not the right reaction either–maybe staying there, reading, and still walking away going, “I don’t fully get this, Lord. Maybe in heaven you’ll help me get it? Okay, thanks.” Lovely post.

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      Ha! I love that this was your reaction, Kirsten! It’s why I’ve come to have such a love/hate relationship with this series. It forces me to not skip around, which sometimes makes things difficult. But it also means I have to wrestle with tough questions.

  • http://www.registeredrunaway.com/ Registered Runaway

    Love this Steph. The Bible is a story.

  • http://www.struggletovictory.com/ Kari Scare

    Very inspiring post for me! Probably my biggest fear or hangup with blogging & teaching is that I’m going to mess up with how I interpret or explain something. I know God is qualifying me, but I still struggle a great deal with this. This post inspired me to keep following where God leads and to be okay with not knowing or understanding. Actually, I love how God’s Word is so vast. We’re certainly never going to get bored with it!

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      That’s true, Kari. I don’t think we can ever get bored with God’s Word. I too sometimes get caught up in worries about how I might interpret things. I need the permission to say “I don’t know” just as much as anybody else.

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/ Jim Fisher

    The Bible, to me, is even more than a story. As N.T. Wright suggests, it is not an end-point. It is a sign-post pointing to something much greater than itself. A sign-post is an invitation into a journey, not an proclamation of a destination.

    I often can hear the whisperings of that invitation much clearer in the pause-and-reflect white space between the lines than in the black letters and words floating above it.

    Often I urge myself to dig deep, then listen. And if I hear nothing, to move on.

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      Great reference, Jim. I love N.T. Wright. I love the idea that the Bible is an invitation to a journey.

  • http://twitter.com/Vaderalman Mark Allman

    “sometimes we read the Bible and we don’t get it?” Sometimes turns into often at times. I think with all learning and understanding not all of it comes at once and not in the timing we wish for. Sometimes not at all. I do know as we expose ourselves more and more to God it effects us; I do not know how at times but I know it does. I expect as we are exposed more and more to God he is making links and connections we do not see right now and I am sure some we will never see. I do think it is exciting to think as Kari says the “vastness” of it all. God can not be measured neither can his word. Not in impact; nor scope; nor understanding; nor grandness.

    • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

      I can picture that, Mark- God making links in our brain that we don’t see, until the day we need to follow them and connect the pieces. I have had that happen to me before. I pray that this is what He is doing when I don’t understand, but still am approaching His Word with an open heart.