by Hunter Sipe, Family Minister/Youth Director/Church Planter
Bible reading is supposed to be fun, right? I mean, we are supposed to feel happy feelings as we search for the “hidden nuggets” of Scripture. Then why am I not super excited when trekking through Old Testament narrative? And seriously, why do I sometimes feel disappointed, sad and hopeless during “my devotions?”
Here’s the truth. There are some really depressing and hopeless parts of Scripture.
I was reading through my normal Bible reading schedule and I hit a patch of really disappointing characters and depressing stories. It seemed like the ancient world was hanging on by a thin thread as God finds only a handful of “righteous” people who can intercede and stiff-arm God’s anger against humanity. These stories seemed to hit like waves on the shore – crash, crash, crash. It was starting to weigh heavy on my soul, day after day! The earth is wrecked by a consuming flood because of the people’s wickedness: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heat was only evil continually” (Gen. 6.5). The people of the earth are scattered and divided to keep people unifying in their sin (Gen. 11). Finally, the tsunami struck. My reading schedule took me through Genesis 19-20 and Psalm 12 on the same day.
Here I read of the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah - horrific. Abraham prays for God’s wrath to be turned away from the people and the city but to no avail. The city is utterly decimated by fire and sulfur and only Lot and his daughters – the few righteous people – are spared. But is gets worse. A saddening story of incest follows as Lot’s daughters look for a way to carry on the family name. These are the righteous people that God saved? This is my morning devotion? This is my nugget of happiness?!
I kept going along with my scheduled readings. Psalm 12 is a perfect description of what I was reading in Genesis: “… the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor, with flattering lips and a double heart they speak… On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.” I couldn’t shake my Bible-study-induced sadness. I was actually wondering why I only saw sin, destruction and judgment. This story began to touch on the sin and hopelessness of my own heart. I feel just as wicked as these people! How am I supposed to feel better about myself while reading this?
But here is another bomb shell: God put the depressing and hopeless parts of Scripture there on purpose. We know this theologically: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful…” (2 Tim. 3.16). But do we know this functionally? Savingly? Beautifully?
The following day I was overwhelmed with joy as our Youth Group studied Ephesians 1.3-14 together. Here, we get a bird’s-eye view of the cosmic plan of God throughout all time. Did you know that God has been at work from eternity past to lovingly save you? All of history is this unraveling story of God’s predeterming, choosing, adopting, redeeming, forgiving, gift-giving, uniting, sealing love! Every ounce of the depressing and hopeless history of Israel, every broken piece of our story is all part of God’s plan to magnify His Son, Jesus. It’s all about Him, not us! “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1.7-10). Did you hear that? God has been working throughout all time to sum up everything in history into Jesus. He’s the goal, the end, the sum, the climax of all things. He’s the reason why my Bible reading is supposed to be hopeless sometimes.
I often read my Bible as if I am (or we are) the sum of all things – it’s all about me and what I do or us and what we do. This kind of reading will leave me hopeless. And praise God for it! Being hopeless in myself means that I can actually anticipate God’s beautiful plan, God’s purpose. Learning to be despairing of my sin and inability to save myself allows me to hear the sweet news of the Gospel and rejoice. Being confronted with the saddest, most depressing parts of Scripture (and my own heart) drives me to God’s purposes in Christ; His cross, His empty tomb, my union with Him, His work for me. As Luther says, “the Law only shows sin, terrifies, and humbles; thus it prepares us fro justification and drives us to Christ. The law is thus to be a minister and a preparation for grace,” and the despair worked by it ultimately is useful and salutary. Being bummed in my devotions helps me to hear that Jesus is my hope. This is beautiful!
Trust me, Bible devotions can be pretty terrible on the emotions sometimes, but they just might be a death that leads to life. May you read and despair so that you might know Christ and rejoice!