Things mean everything to us. And because things mean everything, a single thing often means nothing.
Think about your cell phone. Many, if not all of us feel completely vulnerable if we begin to drive down the road without it. Twenty, even fifteen years ago, most of us could not conceive of such dependence on a communication device. These phones (note, phone is now a proper term rather than telephone) carry such importance and priority in our lives, yet, will any of us have the same phone two years from now? Likely not, for it will be obsolete (it probably already is!) and in need of replacing. It is a thing of priority, but it is also a priority to replace the one you have with another. And another. Even if you make it a whole two years without replacing one, you’ll likely burn through five phones in the next decade.
These devices are important and throwaway items at the same time.
Our church is currently spotlighting and celebrating those who work as cross-cultural evangelists. As part of our focus, we recently watched an animated film about Robert Jermain Thomas, a man who smuggled Bibles into Korea in the 1860s. In a different time, and at a different place, we saw how precious the words of God’s revelation to man were. When the only Bible a person could read are the few pages wallpapering someone’s home, the value of those words skyrockets.
As believers in the contemporary United States, we face three realities with which we must contend to become Bible readers rather than Bible skimmers.
First, we must recognize, as we probably already have, our complete immersion in media. Not, the media, as in news organizations. “Media” meaning means of input of information into our minds. This very blog is a form of it. Phones, TVs, and radios all give us more than we can possibly consume with any sort of real comprehensibility. With a swipe or a click, we can dispose of anything we do not want (or even want right now) and find something else. The idea of truly reading for a period of 15-30 minutes does not comport with such media habits and consumption.
Take care, reader. This is not a post lamenting the attention spans of younger people or the pitfalls of the modern age. We have been on this trajectory for a while now. We bought the products that told retailers and advertisers this is what we wanted. We may not have realized what we were doing at the time, but these habits were not produced by our 12-year-olds. We bought in, and this is what our children are born into.
We shall see this in our next point. The commodification of Christianity in the United States in the 1990s produced all sort of Christianized media for our consumption as well. Most of us have probably given or thrown away more devotional literature than we could ever possibly read. While admittedly not all devotional literature is like this, much of it highlighted a verse or two and went on to emphasize a non-controversial moral point in a way that was not distinctly Christian, or it explained how special you were to Jesus. This may have taught us an important verse or two, but it did so in a way completely separated from the larger point of the passage from which it came.
Third, in knowing the stories of the Bible, we became familiar with them. This is especially true in the Gospels. We all know about the Feeding of the 5,000 because we’ve heard it taught and preached from all four of the Evangelists’ accounts. We have had all the videos and movies recounting the narrative events of Scripture that we can handle. My generation had SuperBook, The Flying House, and Hanna-Barbera’s The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bibie. Every kid since then has had Veggie Tales and a host of other offerings. I can still recall the visual from SuperBook of Daniel recounting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue from Daniel 2, and the unexpectedly gory defeat of Goliath in The Greatest Adventure. As a result, we know the sequence of events, but not the words from the page.
Based on the above, we find ourselves skimming the words of Scripture instead of reading them. We’re not expecting anything from them.
We’ve got too many flashing lights and notifications and shows to catch on Netflix to think of Scripture as a priority. We read it on a device we won’t have in two years, and we mentally associate the Bible with the device. We don’t own Bibles; we own files of the Bible on our devices.
We have consumed devotional literature that merely reinforced what we already thought or what we thought we thought. It never challenged us. It gave us good life principles for living the middle class American life, but without roots in Christ and not done in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We became so familiar with the biblical narrative that we’re bored with it when we have to actually sit down to read the Holy Spirit-inspired account that gave rise to the scripts and reenactments we know so well.
What could these words say to us that we don’t know already?
So we skim.
We need to slow down and expect that God had someone write these words and preserve them for at least 2,000 years for a purpose. We certainly are not the original audience in the sense that we didn’t receive Galatians in our own mailboxes, but we are the recipients as the church of Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit knew you and I needed those words as well.
Join us right here again tomorrow, and I’ll begin to outline some ways we fight skimming and start reading.