Although The River’s focus is on helping people read and understand the Bible, it is not merely a “natural” thing we do. Our reading Scripture is not simply a matter of applying ourselves to the task of reading.
Although the goal of reading the Bible should be to read the Bible (and not naively hope for a mystical experience that is un-anchored in the text we are reading), understanding and insight do not just come naturally. If that were the case, than non-believing, Spirit-devoid religion professors at secular universities might well be the best Bible teachers (but they’re not!).
The Holy Spirit is the one who instructs and teaches us in our reading of texts; He is our helper in the reading. We rightly should think hard in our reading as we wrestle with the words the Spirit inspired, but we must not conclude that our good reading will force God to open our understanding. But neither can we sit back and refuse to attend to the words of Scripture with the expectation that God will simply download truth into our minds in some direct work of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-14; 2 Timothy 2: 7, 15).
The opening verses of Luke’s Gospel can help us in thinking through the Spirit’s role in our reading. Luke wrote:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
We believe that Luke was inspired by the Spirit in his writing of his Gospel–the Spirit worked in and through him to produce his Gospel. But the presence and work of the Spirit in Luke’s life did not preclude him working hard to write what he did. He pursued the eyewitnesses, he investigated everything carefully, he took pains to prepare an exacting account, and he intended to give to Theophilus what he needed in order to know the exact truth. The hard work of writing well was not an obstacle to the Spirit’s inspiration. The Spirit’s inspiration was not antithetical to Luke’s good work as a writer.
This idea–of reading attentively and anticipating help from the Lord in coming to understand what we read–is reflected in what Paul wrote in his letter to Timothy: “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7). The word “consider” refers to thinking hard. Timothy would need to think well about what he had heard from Paul. But that didn’t mean he would be on his own to figure it all out. Paul insisted that, in partnership with Timothy’s hard thinking, the Lord would graciously give needed understanding.
When it comes to reading the words Luke wrote (or any other passage of Scripture), our hard work in reading well is not an obstacle to the Spirit’s illumination and guidance. The Spirit’s work in us is not antithetical to our efforts to read texts well.
We are not on our own as readers . . . but we still should read well!