Having Trouble Understanding The Bible?
Some of us fall out of Bible reading because we fail to make time for it. Busyness crowds out the minutes we might otherwise give to sitting and hearing from God. There’s always something that didn’t get done yesterday or something relatively urgent that’s come up today. It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it, just how many things in our little worlds seem to trump listening to the one who made them all?
For others, it’s not busyness that gets the best of us, but a subtle cynicism about reading the Bible. How am I ever going to understand this? It’s hard to keep getting up extra early and setting aside precious minutes when you’re not convinced you’ll be able to make sense of what you see, when you might finish and strangely feel further from God, when you’re chasing a full heart morning after morning and yet often walk away just scratching your head.
If you’ve felt that way before, you’re not alone. In fact, even the men who wrote the Bible know something of what you feel. The apostle Peter says of the letters Paul wrote, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Think about that: Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote books in the Bible, and yet even he struggled to read Romans or Thessalonians (or whatever particular letter he had in mind). If he could write on behalf of God and have a hard time understanding Scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised if we do too.
And I, for one, definitely do. I’ve battled to get through the census records in Numbers. I’ve labored through the kidneys, livers, and “entrails” of the Levitical laws. I’ve grown weary of the repetitive failures of Israel in 1–2 Kings. I’ve sometimes struggled to see what Hebrews sees in the Old Testament. Much of the imagery of Revelation is still a mystery to me. And so, I regularly find these clear and accessible words from Paul all the more meaningful and encouraging:
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. (2 Timothy 2:7)
This is an amazing acknowledgment from Paul to Timothy. He says, in essence, “I know some of what I am writing won’t make sense to you immediately, and you’ll be tempted to think you cannot understand it — but you can. So, don’t give up too easily. Don’t assume this is above you. Assume that God can make his words clear to you.”
Those apart from Christ cannot understand the things of God. They flip through the Bible’s majesty and wisdom in vain. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). But not you. If you’re in Christ, you can see things that they can’t. You can understand things that they can’t. Where they see foolishness and irrelevance, you see unspeakable beauty, a radiant window into reality. Not because you’re smarter or more educated or merely a better reader, but because you’re not a natural person anymore; you’re a supernatural you, with a supernatural mind and heart and eyes.
Or as Paul says elsewhere of natural people, “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). But not you. You’re not alienated from God anymore. Through the cross, he’s brought you near, and in bringing you near, he’s softened your heart and unlocked your mind. The God who flooded all creation with light “has shone in [your] heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). That’s who you are when you open the Bible.
And because you’re someone new, you can understand more of the Bible than you might think.
Not only can you understand more than you think, but the apostle goes even further: “ . . . the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” If God lives in you, nothing in the Bible is above you — not the genealogies of Numbers, or the sacrificial laws of Leviticus, or the prophetic visions of Ezekiel, or the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation. With God, all are within your reach.
Lest we think Paul’s talking only about the verses immediately before this one, he comes back to the same reality in the very next chapter: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). As much of the Bible that has been breathed out by God — all of it! — that much is now profitable for you. Even on the most obscure, most confusing pages, God means to teach you, to exhort you, to correct you, to train you, to equip you — he means to speak to you.
Before any of that can happen, however, we first have to understand what God is saying — which is exactly where God promises to help us: “The Lord will give you understanding in everything.”
None of this means we just sit alone with our Bibles until we understand everything. No, God gives the gift of understanding in a hundred different ways…. finish reading here