An important part of our relationship with God through the scriptures is that we are confronted and challenged by the scriptures. It is concerning that many manage to read the bible and find only what confirms their point of view. Worse yet are those who manage to filter their resources, studies, and friends so that they may be free from any confrontation to their previously held assumptions or beliefs. Because without these encounters which challenge our thinking, we cannot hope to grow in our faith.
This is the power of the scriptures, to challenge the way we see ourselves and to replace that point of view with God’s opinion of us. On the one hand God’s opinion is quite gratifying because let’s face it, God has made huge sacrifices to free us from our sins and to heal our lives. God loves us and cares more about us than we even care for ourselves. On the days in which we are feeling worthless and weak God speaks and says: “I have even kept track of the number of hairs on your head.” (Matthew 10:29-31) But at the same time God reminds us that we have failed to love our neighbors, that we are arrogant, greedy, and foolish. As we open our hearts to hear God speak to us through the scriptures we tend to see ourselves anew. And this becomes a source of growth in faith and wisdom.
When the people of Israel returned from bondage they had no knowledge of who they were. They knew of what had been before all of the destruction. And they knew themselves as slaves living in a foreign land. But they did not have any type of image of themselves as faithful people living in the land and fulfilling the purpose for which they were created. The reading of the scriptures with understanding gave them a picture of themselves, an understanding of their purpose for being. And that gave them a new start for shaping their lives. This resulted in tears and in a call for celebration. The tears were because as they formed this picture of who they were created to be, they felt overwhelmed by how far they had fallen. They struggled with how much they needed to rebuild, both in their city and in their own hearts. They were profoundly broken people.
But there was also a call to celebration. The celebration was to be a rejoicing for what God had accomplished in bringing them home. The celebration was to be shared with people who were less fortunate, because an important part of the identity wasn’t about who they were as individuals but who they would be as a people. They needed a party to acknowledge that God would not leave them in their present state, but would walk with them as they rebuilt their lives.
The gift of the Word of God to us is that it has the ability to give this same sense of our identity, our purpose as God created us. Our reason for reading and studying the bible is to grow in that image, to gain more understanding of what it is God wants to accomplish in and through us. And in that process we are sometimes caused to shed tears at how far we’ve fallen short. But it is also our source of great joy in what God can accomplish with us, and through us.