A Unicorn in a Patio Chair

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
~ 2 Timothy 3:16

Why a book?

As of 2016, around one million books are published annually in the United States. Is this thing on? One million. Every year. I cannot make sense of that, but there it is. The term glut hardly covers it. The majority of ebooks I own were either free or less than $1.99. Many of the books I have in my humble home library were either given to me or purchased for less than $10. Rumors of the printed book’s death have grown and spread like kudzu for years, though Samuel Clemens might suggest they’re exaggerated.

People now perceive little value for a book. I’ve heard people question why anyone would read a book when you can always Google anything you need to know. Though the Bible is still the best selling book, it may also be the least read. Lifeway Research conducted a survey designed to be representative of the United States and found 10% of people had never read the Bible at all. Only 11% had actually read the entire Bible and only 9% had read it more than once. The largest group was 30% of those surveyed who answered they had read several passages or stories from the Bible. Despite not reading it, 87% percent of households own a Bible and more than half have a positive view of it and think it’s valuable.

You might think I’m going to bewail biblical illiteracy, and it is tempting. I have quite a different track in mind. With facts staring us in the face, I ask, is it reasonable that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present Creator of everything would give us a book about himself? Books are about as abundant as dirt on the earth and probably only slightly more valuable to the average earthling. Many people will say the Bible is valuable, but it’s obviously not valuable enough to read. Why would God give us a book about himself that few would pay any attention to?

To Know or Not to Know?

We first must think, not about a book, but about knowledge. We bring nothing into this world with us. Though we are designed to breathe and transition naturally from fluid to breathing air, we don’t know what air is. We don’t know what breathing is, nor why it is so important? We are born knowing nothing. Everything we have come to know by the time we die, we have learned from somewhere. The knowledge we gain will have much to do with the nature and form of the information available to us.

Some things we find out through observation and exploration, but many things we have to be told. We can observe the creation around us and infer a powerful and wise Creator (Romans 1:19-20). Creation is a form of revelation, but it leaves much unknown. What sort of Creator has made everything? Is he holy, righteous, just? Does he have wrath and love? How can we creatures serve and please him? Does he even care or notice whether we do? What about heaven, hell, life after death? Why do we die at all? Having a conscience, we know guilt, but can guilt ever be removed? Is the Creator changing or unchanging? So revelation of some kind is necessary. We cannot find out such things by merely watching the sun rise or staring at stars in the night sky.

Says Who?

I hope we can agree that some form of revelation is necessary for us to know truth about our souls, life, death, and judgment to come. But, what form should necessary revelation take? God could give immediate revelation to each individual. The problem is obvious. The party of the first part has received revelation A, while the party of the second part has received revelation B. When A and B are not equal, and may even be in direct opposition, where does that leave us? How could we possibly know which is right when one says one thing and another something else?

Alternatively, God could give revelation to a few different ones and that revelation be handed down through oral tradition. This still ends up with the same problem. There is no fixed standard, so how could differences be resolved? When one claimed to speak revelation, how could it be verified? Another obvious problem would be how to deal with charlatans and deceivers. Without a fixed standard, we are ten-year-olds shoving each other on the playground.
“Oh, yeah?”
“Yeah!”
“Says who?”
“Says me!”
“Oh yeah?”
“Yeah!”

A fixed standard of revelation is then necessary. How are we to know and be assured of truth? God has given us a written word that is sufficient for everything we need (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 16-21). A fixed, written standard is not only necessary, but reasonable and indispensable.

Some would object: if there is an infallible, inerrant, fixed, written standard, then why are there so many different sects, denominations, and groups who all claim to be following the Bible? Why so many interpretations that vary widely and even contradict each other? Let’s consider a couple of things here.

First, finding fault with the Bible because different people think it says different things is kind of like finding fault with genuine currency because of the existence of counterfeit bills. Do we doubt the validity and worth of a real Ben Franklin because of a plethora of fake C-notes? Let’s look at it another way.

Say you have a sealed room with one way in and out. In the room you have placed a book and you have selected a dozen people at random. You send the people into the room one at a time to read the book. Afterward you quiz the participants about what the book said, and you get six or eight different interpretations of what was written in the book. Is it more reasonable to think the difference is in the book or in the people? That brings us to the next consideration of why so many different interpretations exist.

Second, the diversity of interpretations is due to the noetic effects of the fall and man’s imaginative capacity. The term noetic refers to the intellect and the fall refers to the fall into sin and the damage of depravity because of it. Man’s intellect is affected by the fall and one proof is that it is possible for a man to think of a lie and possible for a man to believe a lie. Why, it’s not only possible, but I’ve seen it done. So man has the capacity to conceive of lies and to believe lies.

Man also has an imaginative capacity that is capable of thinking of the impossible. He can imagine something in his mind that does not exist, and maybe could not exist for various reasons. Not only can he imagine unreality, but he can hold true, untrue, real, and unreal thoughts in his mind simultaneously. Let me illustrate.

Imagine a wrought-iron patio chair. It’s not hard. Maybe you have one, or your grandmother did. You can think of the white lacquer paint and the rust stains. You can envision the cracks in the paint and the places where the metal is exposed and smooth from wear. You can think of the heft of the chair and how solid it feels to sit in. Also imagine a purple unicorn. The beast can be solid, striped, spotted, piebald, or whatever you like. Think of the mane, tail, and the horn protruding between the ears atop its gallant head. Imagine the hoofbeats as it trots around the yard, or the crunch of the apples it eats off the tree. Now imagine the unicorn sitting in that wrought-iron patio chair. Silly image, isn’t it. A unicorn sitting in a chair is funny, but you did it. You saw it in your mind.

You just illustrated to yourself why there are so many different interpretations of the Bible. You just simultaneously imagined something real, the patio chair, and something not real, the purple unicorn, and brought them both together, the unicorn sitting in the chair. That scene does not exist, has never existed, and will not exist, but you saw it. The fact that you put a unicorn in a patio chair does not mean there is something wrong with the chair, or that patio chairs are not real.

Remember, Remember

I’ve gone long, so I hope the roast won’t be tough by the time you get home to it. I think I have demonstrated somewhat the reasonableness and necessity of a fixed, written standard. Our thinking doesn’t always go straight and we need something to inform and correct us. A written word is also necessary because we need something to go back to because we are so prone to forgetfulness. We need reminding and we need to remember. So, God has given us his word (1 Timothy 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:14; Hebrews 10:32; 2 Peter 1:12-13, 15; 3:1). God has given us a book, so read it and then read it again.

A Shoe in the Hand is Worth Two on the Feet

Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
~ 2 Timothy 2:7

A parable about marriage…maybe.

A certain young man sat down by the way to look at the sky and to think. A neighbor of his happened to walk by. “Good morning.” The young man still stared at the clouds. The neighbor sat down his parcel and leaned closer to the young man’s face. “Hello. Good morning. You seem lost in your thoughts.” The young man blinked, looked at the neighbor, and smiled. “Oh, hello, good morning. I didn’t see you. I was thinking.”

The neighbor straightened to full height. “Well, thinking is always good, though it has gone a little out of fashion. What were you thinking about?” The young man tilted his head and moved his mouth, but no sound came out at first. “I was thinking about a wife.” The neighbor tapped his chin twice. “And whose wife were you thinking about?” The young man’s head leaned back. “What? No. I was thinking about my own wife.” The neighbor put his hands in his pockets. “Oh, I see, but I thought you were unmarried.” The young man gathered his hair from his forehead and smoothed it back. “That’s just the problem. I don’t have a wife; I want a wife.” The young man rubbed the back of his neck and dropped his hand back to his lap. His hair sprang back to drape his forehead.

The neighbor adjusted the waist of his pants and rested his hands on his hips and relaxed his elbows. “Well, sooner or later, a young man will want a wife. What have you done to get a wife?” The young man’s eyes scanned back and forth. “So far I have sat down here and thought about it.” The neighbor stretched his back and then scratched his head about the crown. “What are you going to do after that?” The young man sat still. “I don’t know. I don’t know how to get a wife. How do you get a wife?” The neighbor spread his hands out with palms upward. “What? Have you never read how Boaz got Ruth to wife? He went to the gates of the city and plucked off his shoe. If you’re going to do this the right way, the Bible way, that’s the only way to do it.” The young man’s eyes widened. “Thanks.” He got up and ran off. The neighbor paused a moment, picked up his parcel, and continued on his way.

***

After some time, this same young man once again sat down by the way. As expected, his neighbor came along after a while. The young man this time was alert. “Hello, sir.” The neighbor stopped and rested both hands atop his walking stick. “Good morning, young man. How is the search for a wife getting on?” The young man pushed his lips out like he was going to whistle. “Not very well.” The neighbor wiped his forehead with a handkerchief and replaced his hat. “Oh. What has happened? Did you not take my advice?” The young man placed his hands on the ground. “Yes, I took your advice. I took it all over town. I took it to everyone I met. I even took it to the Bible.” The neighbor’s eyebrows followed the ups and downs of the young man’s words. “Well? What did you find?”

The young man leaned back against the old oak. “I walked many miles, consulted every aged person I met, and went at last to the maps and the city archives. I found that our city does not have gates and never has, as far as the records show. If I could not find the gates, I did not know how I would go there, how I would pluck off my shoe, and how I would get a wife.” The neighbor cleared his throat, but the young man continued before he could speak. “I figured I must be missing something, so I tried to find you but couldn’t find you anywhere.” The neighbor coughed. “Ah, I have been out of town. I’m sorry I missed you.”

The young man sat back up. “Well, I couldn’t find you so I got out the Bible. I read to see what it said about getting a wife. I could not find any other mention of the gates of the city or plucking off shoes to get a wife. Now I wonder if that really is the way.” The neighbor straightened and interrupted. “You’re getting confused by the silence. The Bible doesn’t mention it in those other passages, but it doesn’t say it didn’t happen in those instances.” The young man tilted his face up to his neighbor. “Wait. That’s confusing.” The neighbor relaxed slightly. “Let me explain. In the case of Boaz, the Bible says it did happen. So, when the Bible is silent about it in those other passages, we have to assume that it happened the same way. You see?” The young man scratched his head. “Hmmm…let me ask you a question. Are you married?” The neighbor tilted his head to the side. “No. I have never been married.” The young man looked at the clouds. “Well, maybe that’s the problem.”

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Reading the Whole Bible

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. ~ Romans 15:4

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. ~ Romans 15:4

Have you ever read the entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation?

If you haven’t approached the reading of all the Bible with an intentional plan and regular effort, then you probably haven’t read the whole Bible. I’ve seen some surveys in the last few years that report a little less than two-thirds of evangelical Christians have read the whole Bible at least once in their life.

For several years now I have been encouraging people to read the Bible through every year using some sort of plan for daily reading. At an average reading speed, it takes about 70 hours to read the whole bible. 70 hours works out to about 10-15 minutes per day in a year’s time. All that averages to around three or more chapters a day of reading to read the whole Bible in a year. The point here is that reading the whole Bible in a year’s time is very doable.

For the last several years I have also been surprised by the objections to the aforementioned reading. Honestly, it baffles me how anyone could be opposed to reading the Bible, but there it is. I want to deal with the most common objections I have heard, but first let’s ask: Should a Christian read the whole Bible? The Bible is typically printed in a little over one thousand pages. One thousand pages? How many one thousand page books have you ever read? I have heard that about 70% of adults in America read one book per year. If you’re only reading one book per year, I doubt it’s a thousand page tome.

Yes, Christians should read the whole Bible. No, there is not a command: Thou shalt read the whole Bible. Consider just a couple of verses about the Scripture.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
– 2 Timothy 3:16

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.
– Proverbs 30:5

If all scripture is inspired and profitable, then we should get around to reading all scripture at some point. If every word of God is pure, then we should get around to reading every word of God at some point. If God bothered to give us one thousand pages of words that are for our instruction and good, then we should bother to read them all.

Three common objections to reading the Bible in a year

Out of a sense of fairness, which comports with my mountain-bred roots, no one I’ve talked with has actually objected to reading the Bible at all, only to reading the whole Bible in a year by a plan. I’ve heard various reasons expressed variously, but I’ve collected them here into the three most common.

  1. I don’t have enough time. I broke it down earlier that this can be done in about 10-15 minutes per day. With the mobile devices we have today, we can always have the Bible with us making it even easier to find this time. Besides, if you seriously don’t have 10-15 minutes in a day to read the Bible, your’re seriously overbooked and cardiac arrest is in your near future. I understand that everyone is busy. I have seven children. The oldest is starting college next week and the youngest isn’t yet two-years-old. I have my own business where I regularly work 50+ hours a week, which at times can be significantly higher. I pastor a church and regularly preach three messages a week. Despite all that, I am currently reading through the Bible in a year. I could go on, but the point is that we are all busy. I don’t think I’m special or any busier than anybody else. If you seriously do not have 10-15 minutes a day to read the Bible, then your priorities are out of order.
  2. I think it’s better to read just a verse or two and get something out of them than to read three chapters and get nothing out of it. I question how you could read three chapters of the Bible and get nothing out of it, but I do have two main answers to this objection. First, reading and studying are not the same things. I think this objections confuses the difference between the two. I’m not suggesting that you should read the Bible in a year and not study the Bible. I am suggesting you do both. They are not the same thing. I live by the idea that you should read broadly and study deeply.

    Second, does the reading of a verse or two to get something out of them result in reading the whole Bible? Using that approach, how many times have you read the whole Bible? You don’t have to answer out loud. Without an intentional plan and consistent effort over time, most of us will not read the whole Bible. I set out many times to read the whole Bible, but I never accomplished it without a reading plan and a daily commitment.

    Besides these, did Paul write a whole letter and send it to a church with the intention that they would read the letter or just a sentence or two every now and then? Obviously, the letter was intended to be read start to finish. There is no other way to grasp the context and, therefore, the meaning of the letter.

  3. I don’t think it would be right to read the Bible out of a sense of obligation rather than desire. The objection is that reading the Bible by a plan results in you reading out of obligation to check off the day’s duty rather than reading because you want to. I’ve never experienced that myself. I’ve never experienced reading the Bible grudgingly out of obligation. I’ve found the more I read the Bible by plan daily, the more I want to do it.

    Let’s assume you have a spouse and afore posited spouse has a birthday, which you must admit is extremely plausible. Let’s also assume that your recall of said annual events is not impeccable, which you must also admit is plausible. So, in order not to be the heel of the century, you mark your beloved’s birthday on a calendar so that you’re amply prepared on the appropriate day to shower your beloved with attention and jovial celebration. A wise thing to do and a free marital tip. Is it better to mark the date in advance and plan to remember the birthday, or to only celebrate that day when you happen to remember it at the right time? Did the fact that you planned beforehand to remember mean that you acted sheerly out of obligation in whatever affections you directed to your spouse on the day of?

    One way to look at planned reading is obligation and another way to look at it is discipline. I have my suspicions that this is the real heart of most objections. We are not very disciplined and chafe at the thought of discipline. The Bible does teach that we are to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Timothy 4:6-8; 1 Corinthians 9:23-27). In every good thing we endeavor to do, we must wrestle against the flesh that opposes us (Romans 7:14-25; James 4:13-17). Finally, as long as we are in this flesh, we are not sanctified enough to only and always want to do good. If you’re waiting to read the Bible until you feel like it, you won’t read it much.

Benefits to reading the Bible in a year

If you read the whole Bible regularly, you will be benefited. You will grow in grace and knowledge. You will be better prepared to hear sermons well and get more out of them. You will be better able to fight and overcome sin by taking heed to the Word and hiding it in your heart (Psalm 119:11). Your mind will be renewed through the Word (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 1:17-18; Colossians 3:10, 15-16). You will be better prepared to speak a word in season to edify, encourage, and comfort the afflicted. If you think about, what could possibly be beneficial about not knowing more of the Bible?

Maybe there is another reason why we’re not reading the Bible every year

The thought of obligation, duty, and discipline is so odious to us. While I understand the substance of that objection, I ask: What is the alternative? Seriously, what is the alternative to a disciplined approach to reading the Bible. The alternative to discipline is a picture that looks alarmingly similar to the picture of the sluggard in Proverbs.

  • The sluggard is indecisive and will not get started to work though he may talk about it (Proverbs 6:9; 26:14).
  • The sluggard makes excuses or rationalizes his inactivity and lack of accomplishment (Proverbs 20:4; 22:13; 26:16).
  • The sluggard puts responsibility off until later (Proverbs 6:10).
  • The sluggard does not plan ahead and suffers for it (Proverbs 6:8).
  • The sluggard has no self-discipline but must have an overseer to make him do something (Proverbs 6:7).
  • The sluggard does not have a hard-work ethic (Proverbs 6:8).
  • The sluggard does not have the follow-through to finish what he does start (Proverbs 12:27; 19:24; 26:15).

More could be said, but I will leave you with a serious question. Do you really have a good reason not to read the whole Bible, or is it just an excuse for laziness? Let each of us examine our own heart before the Lord.

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