As we close Chapter 6, Dr. Willard spends some time answering the peculiar question posed above.
Why ask it?
Maybe it is because his book Hearing God is about hearing the word of God and developing a conversational relationship with God; it is not about reading the Bible.
So maybe it is perfectly reasonable to ask “what is the Bible?”
The Bible is not an ongoing conversation; it is not the living word.
It is a finite, written record of God’s truth, spoken through God’s people, the history of the times and God’s words spoken through His son Jesus and His followers.
Because the Bible is finite does not mean that the Bible is not valuable. It only means that it is an entity, a book that exists. It also does not mean that God cannot speak from the written word. I hate to use this as a comparison but what happens when I need to leave my home and I leave a note for my wife to read, informing her about my errand and when I will return? My note speaks for me. The Bible speaks for God. Dr. Willard states that the Bible does a whole lot more than my note; it “fixes the boundaries of everything He [God] will ever say to humankind. It fixes those boundaries in principle, though it does not provide detailed communications that God may have with believers today.”
Can you meet God in the Bible? Of course you can, and the more you study it, the more God is revealed in the pages.
But the Bible does not express the word of God like Jesus did. Jesus was the Living Word while he was on earth, whereas the Bible is a finite thing.
The Bible is not the world of nature. It is not a living thing like nature which is growing and revealing God in its beauty.
The Bible is not the Holy Spirit that descended in the Book of Acts, the Spirit that went through the church and caused Christianity to spread as God sent out followers to witness to the unchurched.
But most of all, the Bible is not the word that God can give to us as believers. God can and does communicate to all people who earnestly seek him. We can speak to God and God in turn He can speak to us. “God reigns in His kingdom through His speaking. That speaking is reserved to Himself, but it may in some small measure be communicated through those who work with Him.”
Don’t get me wrong. Serious Bible study is valuable. The lessons that one can receive from the Bible are timeless and can be extremely helpful. Dr. Willard states that for the person who approaches “it openly, intelligently and persistently, God will meet them through its pages and speak peace to their souls.”
In my experience, it is best to approach the Bible in a serious manner, praying before reading and thanking God after the reading is finished. Years ago I found a book that helped me with Bible study and I would like to recommend it in this post. It was entitled How to Study the Bible and Enjoy It. I found the book very inviting because reading the Bible is very intimidating for many. The special nature of the Bible seems to make it unapproachable. Pastor Skip Heitzig in this book makes the reading of the Bible very comfortable and he explains the process of reading from getting started to “practicing what we’ve preached.”
I liked his prayer before Bible reading so much that I have a copy of it inside my Bible and have read it many times before Bible study. I like it so much that I am going to share it with you as Dr. Willard closes Chapter 6 with words that inspire us to read God’s word.
“Lord, I submit myself to You as Your servant. I pray that you would speak to me personally as I now open Your Word. Sharpen my powers of observation and open my eyes to what the text is saying. Give me wisdom and insight as I seek to interpret what the text means. And help me to apply your truth to the specific areas in my life that need your touch. Gently convict me of any issues I’m neglecting or trying to hide. Lord, I give You complete permission to search my heart to see it there is anything in me that is contrary to Your will. Challenge me with Your holiness and comfort me with Your promises, in Jesus’ name. Amen.”