The Magic Finger
Some people would like to have the Bible serve as a manual for life in a very simple way. They think along the following lines: I am having problems in a relationship, I open the Bible with my eyes closed, open them point my finger, and “boom!”, I have an answer. If you open your Bible to Luke 5 and your finger drops upon “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch,” does that mean that you have to go look for a lake?
It does not tend to work like that. The Bible is not a magical formula. This book is a deposit of Divine Revelation and we must approach it with respect and trust.
So how should you read the Bible?
Read the text
Before opening the Bible, it is good to call on the Holy Spirit. He enlightens our minds and opens our hearts to understand more fully what is going on. This leads us to approach the text respectfully. God has spoken through men in the past and his words have been collected in the books of the Bible. It is a living word, in so far that its message is not limited to the historical context in which it was given originally. “This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 146). Often, people become confused about a Bible passage but never take the time to dig deeper and understand it more fully.
It is good to have some resources to understand it better. We may be able to approach a catechist, a priest or a religious to get insight about some passage that might be causing us difficulty. These people can recommend other texts that can help us understand a passage better. There are cultural things to take into account and sometimes we have to work on our critical reading skills. It is a great chance to comprehend a text that can make a real impact in our lives.
What is the spiritual value of reading the Bible?
Listen for God’s voice
God wants to speak to us today and he may use the Bible to do it. “When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us. All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” (St. Isidore of Sevilla) We need time to let the message come through and touch us. “We must leave aside any other pressing concerns and create an environment of serene concentration.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 146) When we pick up a Bible, this is a good opportunity to read slowly and calm down our spirit. God may wish to give us an inspiration during the reading. This is a habit that requires practice to form. We might even read the same text several times before something jumps out at us. This work is part of a growing life of prayer.
We are looking to have an experience of God when we read the Bible. For this reason, we are open to the message that he wants to give us. “This attitude of humble and awe-filled veneration of the word is expressed by taking the time to study it with the greatest care and a holy fear lest we distort it.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 146)
Maybe some of us have had an experience where we feel that God has spoken directly to our hearts, especially through a passage of Sacred Scripture. It can feel like a mystical experience. A text written down thousands of years ago in a different context seems to bridge the distance of time and space to speak directly to us today. Is this possible? Of course, it is. At the same time, we have to be careful to make sure we do not “put words in God’s mouth.”
So now what?
Test all things. Hold on to the good
St. Paul gives this advice to the Thessalonians: “Test all things. Hold on the good.” (1Th. 5:21) We have the temptation to look for quick and easy results. To grow in our faith, though, we have to learn to reflect more deeply on various themes. “We dedicate time to the things or the people whom we love; and here we are speaking of the God whom we love, a God who wishes to speak to us.” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 146)
It can be helpful to begin a time of prayer with the Bible repeating the words of the young Samuel. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3:9) Then, a time of silence is respected before beginning a paused reading of Sacred Scripture. It can be good to write down the thoughts that you feel the Lord placing on your heart.
A friend of mine had a strong inspiration from the Holy Spirit and he was sure that a Bible verse was meant especially for him. Years later, he began to worry about how he could prove it to somebody else. “If somebody else doesn’t have faith, how could he ever believe that God spoke to me through the Bible?” Although I understand the concern, I encouraged him to look at it a different way. That was a message that God put on his heart. It does not really matter what other people say or think. It helped him in his journey to God, and that is all that matters.
Video in English: https://youtu.be/1EkLVUP3HoI
Video in Spanish: https://youtu.be/OQIfLYmfhG0