On a pretty regular basis, I have people ask me something along the lines of, “Where’s that verse in the Bible that says _____?” Though I can’t prove it, I feel like most of the time I’m being used to help show a friend or relative the error of their ways. The problem with trying to do this, though, is that there usually isn’t a Bible verse that says whatever it is they’re wanting it to say. The Bible wasn’t written like that, and was never intended to be used that way.
Think of it like this: We live in a very image-saturated society. Photos are used so much because they’re easy to understand. The subject is clear, the intent is evident, and it doesn’t take a lot of critical thinking to see what’s happening in a photograph. But if you take a picture and turn it into a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, suddenly things aren’t so easy. It’s hard to see what’s going on because you have to take time to see how it all fits together, putting together small sections at a time before putting the small chunks together to form a bigger picture.
Biblical living is more like a jigsaw puzzle than a photograph.
Often, what people want is a snapshot of God. “What does God say about this?” But that’s not what he gave us. Granted, there are a few verses that spell out how God feels about a particular subject. “Don’t murder” is a pretty clear cut one. So are, “Don’t commit adultery” and “Don’t steal.” Everybody knows those things are wrong. (If you’re trying to convince a loved one not to murder someone, don’t go to you pastor, go to the police. We didn’t take any crime prevention classes at preacher college.) But for the most part, the Bible is a collection of stories from which we are supposed to draw conclusions and understand principles to live by, and you don’t usually get those principles from single verses.
It’s a complex book with hundreds of characters that span thousands of years. It’s got history, parables, census-taking, genealogies, private letters, essays, narrative- have you ever read the Bible? There’s a lot going on there. And when you try to reduce it to single verse, dogmatic statements, you’re doing it wrong.
You can’t understand God and faith by memorizing or relying on single verses. You have to take into account the breadth of scripture, and piece together your understanding of God like a huge puzzle. One piece at a time, see where it fits in the larger context, grab another small piece, figure out where it fits… It’s a lifetime’s effort.
People don’t like that. It’s hard work and it takes time. When we’re in the heat of theological or moral battle, we want to be armed and ready with that silver bullet verse.
Sorry, kids. Most of the time they don’t exist.
That’s why it is so important for Christians to study the Bible. So that when those things come up, you can say, “This happened in 1 Samuel, and Paul mentions this in Romans, and Jesus said this- so I think what God is saying about this issue is…”
If you claim to be a Christian, and you want to understand the will of God better, there’s no way around it: study the Bible.