As a student, one is often told that you need to approach a subject “objectively”, by which they mean we need to come to a subject without any hidden agendas or motives that will make us biased/prejudiced/subjective to the facts. A subject is only useful and beneficial if you actually allow the subject to teach you, rather than you judging the subject. In a similar way, when we approach the Word of God (the Bible), we should realize that we cannot approach the Bible in any way we like. In fact, there is a wrong and a right way to approach God’s Word that will determine whether you will be changed by the Bible or be a judge of the Bible.
A wrong attitude: Pride
In many ways, sinful pride can be summarized by the serpent’s answer to Eve in Gen. 3:5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”. Basically, an aspect of sinful pride is the attitude where we think we can know right and wrong, good and evil, truth and lie, without God or independent from God. Where we consider our own thinking and desires to be “god-like”, or we consider ourselves to be wise apart from God.
As Ps. 10:4 points out, a person who has this type of pride, generally will not even bother to know God, since he/she wouldn’t see the need to know God, “The wicked are too proud to seek God. They seem to think that God is dead.” (NLT) Pride blinds us in this way. Apart from our own proud attitude, God’s response to this type of pride is quite severe. Jesus points out that to those who are proud in their own wisdom (thinking they are wise), God has “hidden” His truth (Lk. 10:21). Similarly, Paul reminds us in Rom. 1:21-23, that people who claim to be wise in their own eyes are actually, “futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened”. For those who think they are wise, proud in their own understanding, Paul points out, “Christ crucified” would seem like “folly” (1 Cor. 1:20).
When we approach the Bible, the only way we will ever learn from it, is if we don’t place ourselves above it; if we don’t think our understanding is superior to the Bible or more “progressive” or “advanced” or “sophisticated” or “more wise”. This struggle generally comes out when we encounter something in the Bible that is not like the “wisdom” of our culture, but contrary to our culture. For example, in a culture that aims to avoid any form of pain/discomfort, Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted” (Matt. 5:10) seem foolish. In a culture where it is believed that all life ends after death, Jesus words, “Store for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matt. 6:20) seem foolish. In a culture which promotes free sex and cohabiting, the Bible’s words on celibacy and marriage (1 Cor. 7) seem foolish. Consequently, every time you encounter the Bible, you are faced with the question… Who is wise? The Bible or my culture? God or me? Pride would say “Me”. Humility would say, “God”.
A right attitude: humility
Originally, when you read Gen. 2:15-17, God gave Adam a command. God told Adam what was right and wrong and Adam had to trust God’s wisdom. Here we see the right attitude: Adam had to humbly accept God’s Word, His will, as true wisdom and to humbly trust God’s Word, His will, as being good. Sadly, Adam opted for Satan’s temptation to reject God’s Word and to doubt its credibility (Gen. 3:5-6). This is one of the important differences between Adam and Jesus. Adam doubted God’s Word and disobeyed. Jesus always trusted His Father’s Word and obeyed (Matt. 4:1-11; Jn. 5:19; Matt. 26:39; Lk. 22:42).
Yet, the original pattern of Gen. 2 remains true. God’s Word remains true wisdom, “The statues of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7).True wisdom and understanding is found when we humbly acknowledge our deep dependence on God’s revealed wisdom, the Bible, and seek to understand it, believe it and be conformed/obedient to it; as Paul would put it in Rom. 12:2, regarding the Gospel, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. We do this by placing ourselves under the Word of God and allowing it to teach us, rebuke us, correct us and train us. Only then do we become, “…competent, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
To use an analogy, when water becomes solid ice, it is generally hard and resistant. It will not bend or be moved easily. At best, if enough pressure or force is applied, it might chip or shatter. Nevertheless, when water melts and becomes a liquid, it can be channeled or moved into a desired direction. In a similar way, pride in our own wisdom makes our hearts like ice, immovable and resistant to God’s Word. Yet, to know God through His Word requires us to melt our hearts in humility and be allowed to be channeled by God’s Word according to His will.
True wisdom only comes when we recognize what our own wisdom is (folly) and realize that God’s Word alone is true wisdom, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” (1 Cor. 3:18). When we cultivate this attitude, as 2nd century church father Tertullian put it, the following will happen, “God put forth a written record; if someone desires to inquire concerning God; being a seeker to find Him, he will believe in Him and serve Him… He who will listen, will find God; and again he who will learn to understand, will be compelled and believe” (Apologeticum, 18:1, 9).
In summary, a true Christian attitude would be to humbly seek to a) understand the Bible, b) believe it and then c) submit/be conformed to it. A wrong attitude would be to arrogantly a) refuse to understand the Bible, b) doubt it and c) rebel against it. “Give me understanding and I will keep your Law and obey it with all my heart” (Ps. 119:34) should be the prayer of every believer.