In those moments when the Bible falls flatly on us, yes, it could be because it’s poorly applied, yes it might be because it was mis-timed, but God wants us to cultivate an attitude that unquestioningly assumes the correct-ness and relevance of his word to our situation. It might well take some time for God’s word to “get through”. We can go days, weeks, months, and even years feeling in the dark spiritually, and it’s not simply our fault. But we must remind ourselves that, whatever it feels like, whatever it looks like, God’s word is always, always going to help.
Have you ever felt depressed and had someone remind you of Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”? Or perhaps you’ve been in the thick of conflict and had someone read Ephesians 4 to you: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (v.32). You hear what the verse is saying, but the hurt of being wronged, and the other person’s lack of apology makes the verse bounce off you. I remember lying in a hospital bed after surgery, with my brain all foggy on morphine, and a well-meaning friend bringing a bunch of sermons for me to listen to; It wasn’t the right time. Christians can trot out glorious verses, like Romans 8:28, like they’re handing out sticking plasters to someone who’s lost their leg in a car accident.
There are times when it feels like the Bible isn’t helping. Christians can experience a huge gap between “life” and what the text says. What should we make of that? Can that be right?
i) The Bible itself recognises that experience. There is such a thing as poor application of Scripture. That’s what Job’s comforters show. Job had experienced unthinkable tragedy, and his comforters are all basically quoting the Bible to him. They preach biblical sermons to him. Some of their sermons are excellent – I wish I could preach like Zophar; he has big God theology (Job 11:7-11) and his imagery is fantastic (Job 20). Paul clearly considered Eliphaz’s doctrine to be orthodox, and has no problem quoting it (see 1 Cor 1:19; Job 5:12). But Job’s friends miss the point. Their timing is all wrong. Their application of truth to Job’s circumstances is mistaken. So, Job says: “Miserable comforters are you all” (Job 16:2). That’s also God’s verdict on their counsel at the end of the book (Job 42:7). The Book of Job demonstrates to us the real possibility of misusing, and mishandling biblical truth, in ways that are unhelpful. Job could honestly and fairly say to his friends: “The Bible isn’t helping!”.
ii) But the moment in which it feels like the Bible isn’t helping me is also a point in which I need to be very careful. Pastorally, those moments are critical.