Many people would agree that reading the Bible can be a spiritual exercise. But why is that so? There can be many reasons. Here I will give three of them and examine them somewhat in depth.
Before we jump into those reasons, let me first define what it means to read the Bible as a spiritual exercise. Simply put, when we read the Bible in order to strengthen our faith, gain faith-formed insights about life, find hope, or examine our lives in light of God’s revelation, we are reading the sacred text spiritually.
Remember that not all reading of the Bible is necessarily for spiritual purposes. Someone may be interested in the Bible as a history book. Someone else may read the text as a story book, ignoring its spiritual implications. There can be overlaps between such spiritual and non-spiritual readings, but here I will keep things simple and focus on a purely spiritual reading that takes the scripture as revelation and prioritizes reading it from a faith-based perspective.
So the first reason that reading the Bible can be a spiritual exercise is because the Bible teaches us about God, and by reading this text we come to know God within the limits of revelation. Even those who don’t believe in God will gain some understanding of the character called God in the Bible just by reading the book. Some books of the Bible don’t mention God at all, but in a larger context, even they would teach the reader something about God, especially the believers. The Bible itself is full of verses that invite us to know God or teach us certain things about the Creator. For example, in Isaiah 40:28, we learn that God’s understanding is unsearchable. In Ephesians 4:6, we learn that God is the father of all. Learning about God from the Bible is a spiritual knowledge because God is not an empirically-testable object that humans can put under microscope and analyze in order to see whether the Bible is telling us the truth.
And this is where the second reason that reading the Bible is potentially a spiritual exercise comes into play. By reading the Bible, we come to know ourselves. This is because the Bible makes a lot of claims about humans and human nature. Not only that, but the writers who wrote the Bible under the guidance of the Spirit are themselves case studies in human nature and God-human interactions. The very process of creating the Bible as a book, the way it was produced and passed down from generation to generation, makes an implicit claim about humanity. So what can we learn about ourselves or about humanity in general by reading the Bible?
Actually, a lot.
First, we learn that humans are created beings — we have a creator. Second, we learn that we have been created in Creator’s image. If that sounds too abstract for you, think about more concrete verses in the scripture that mention human sin and call on us to repent. Take for example 1 John 1:9 that teaches about sinfulness, forgiveness, and repentance all at once. Or look at the dialogue between Job and his friends. If you have ever experienced injustice, frustration, evil, or just plain disappointment in life and anxiously searched your heart, I bet you can learn a lot from the book of Job. The biblical teachings echo our deep yearnings because they come from life and are grounded in human nature. In short, by reading the Bible we can learn about ourselves (about the human race in general and about our individual lives in particular).
The third reason that turns the Bible reading into a spiritual exercise is because by reading the Bible, we come to know our neighbor. By the word “neighbor,” I don’t mean someone who necessarily lives in our neighborhood but rather someone with whom we can and ought to identify as a human being and have compassion. If you read the story of the good Samaritan, you’ll notice that the Samaritan did not know the person he helped. But he helped the abandoned and traumatized person because he had compassion for his fellow wayfarer. So with the Bible, the scripture calls us to know the other as our neighbor in the same way the good Samaritan came to know the abandoned individual: through compassion, sharing, and helping. Knowing our neighbor requires us to overcome our narrow boundaries, leave our comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel, and connect with people. I have to admit that it’s not always easy to do, but neither is following the Lord and carrying our cross.
Now, knowing our neighbor is important because our neighbor is also made in God’s image. Through another broken image of God, we come to know God deeper, but then we also come to know our neighbor through God in a different way, the way Jesus would like us to know.
That said, have you ever noticed that so far all the reasons I’ve given are about cerebral matters? Is it all about “knowing”? Knowing God, knowing yourself, knowing your neighbor? If you’ve noticed that, then good for you because the next reason will be something refreshing. If you didn’t notice that, then just recall that human life is not just about knowing. The knowing or understanding is only a part of human life. There is also intuition, action, emotion, and other components to being human and living that cannot be reduced to heady “knowing” stuff.
But then what does that have to do with reading the Bible as a spiritual exercise? Well, it has a lot to do with it. Here is the fourth reason why reading the Bible is a spiritual exercise: when we read the Bible with attention to detail — thoughtfully and faithfully — we experience the Spirit, however faint that experience might be. Intuitively and in our body (through focusing), through our reading we experience the insights that the Spirit gives. Put simply, reading the Bible can be a spiritual exercise because the Spirit contacts us through the scripture. In the very action of reading, we come to know the Spirit. But it is something deeper than just knowing.
That said, I hope that what I’ve written encourages you to take up and read the Scripture and be aware of the spiritual power of Christ flowing from the pages to you. If you have ideas or questions, please comment and let me know. If you find this post insightful, share it with those who would find value in it as much as you do.
Also, check links below for other relevant posts.