Last night, the Bible study group my wife and I are privileged to be a part of took a sinister turn. We were discussing the benefits of reading the Bible, and we examined a familiar passage:
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13)
The Bible is living and active, we said. It hits us in ever fresh ways and always challenges us with a healthy dose of the unexpected.
Then we began to explore the sword imagery. That’s a bit more aggressive. A bit darker. And then there’s the part about standing naked before the all-seeing and all-deciding Judge of all things. You can’t hide from him. That’s heavy.
While I’ve often taken comfort from this passage (and rightfully so), it struck me how violent this passage is. Here’s what it amounts to. We sit down with a cup of coffee in our comfy armchairs. We open our stylishly leather-bound Bibles, open them up, and flip to our decorative bookmarks. And as soon as we begin to pass our eyes over the words printed on the page, the Bible begins stabbing us.
We sat down to read a book, but the book is a breathing thing. It’s a weapon of warfare. And as we sit there and move our eyes from left to right and top to bottom, our souls are being hacked open. Our deepest secrets are being exposed. We are being stripped bare and held in the open courtroom of the only authoritative Judge in the universe. As we casually turn pages, a bloody battle is being fought.
And if our hearts are in the right place, if we approach the Judge in loving faith rather than defiant terror, then this battle that tears our souls open is also bringing us the victory. The Bible that is stabbing us is also healing us. It lays bare our secrets and our sordid intentions and rebuilds us from the inside out.
A casual onlooker would never recognize the battle taking place. When I read my Bible in a coffee shop, the eyes that scan the room would mistake my brutal attack for the peaceful flipping of pages and look away without calling for help. And when I close the book, stand up, and calmly walk away, they may not notice that I am a different person than the one who sat in that chair and opened that book. I don’t always recognize it myself.
Yet every encounter with the word of God is a bout with a warrior, an appointment with a skilled surgeon. The knife’s edge will cut deep, and we will lose much. But what we lose will always be those things we ought never to have held in the first place. And we will always walk away more like the people we truly are, more like the people God has designed and called us to be.