Biblical illiteracy in America is no secret. While statistics vary from survey to survey, polls tell us that only half of our young people can name the four Gospels, and only a third can identify who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. One must ask, why is it that when the Bible is so readily available today, even as a free app on an iPhone, so many have little more than a casual interest in the Bible?
In an article addressing the problem of biblical illiteracy in America, David Gelernter the famous computer scientist and professor at Yale University reminds us that, “Scripture begins with God creating the world, but there is something these verses don’t tell you: The Bible has itself created worlds. Wherever you stand on the spectrum from devout to atheist, you must acknowledge that the Bible has been a creative force without parallel in history.” But even among those who acknowledge the creative force of the Bible, it does not always motivate them to engage the Holy Book.
I am presently teaching an online course in spiritual formation for Rockbridge Seminary, entitled, The Practice of Spiritual Disciplines, to a class of a dozen graduate students, most of whom are already serving as ministry leaders. Several of the spiritual disciplines focus on the Holy Scriptures, such as: lectio divina or the sacred reading of Scripture, Scripture Memorization, personal Bible study, and meditation. It was striking to discover when first teaching the course eight years ago, that some students had never read through the entire Bible, not even once.
Sad to say, many of those being ordained into Christian ministry today may not be able to name the books of the Bible, or to clearly state in their own words the one central message of the Bible, the main idea that holds it all together. Is it because people have not been taught? Is it because they have not observed their parents and mentors spending time in the Scriptures? Is it a spiritual defect of some kind?
May I humbly suggest a simple reason? Perhaps it is because they have never experienced its benefits. The Scriptures might be likened to spiritual milk, bread and meat, a complete spiritual diet if you will. Some is more easily digested, some requires mild chewing, and some requires long term rumination. But just like we have to introduce adult foods gradually to children until they acquire a taste for them, so we must cultivate a habit and practice that brings us to God’s Word on a daily basis. Yes, as the actor Wilford Brimley used to say in the old Quaker Oats commercial, “It’s the right thing to do!”
The Psalmist declares, “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul”(Psalm 19:7a NIV). The Hebrew reads, “The Torah (writings of Moses) of Yahweh is whole (complete and sound), restoring the soul.” The Hebrew word underlying our text may also be translated reviving. It reminds me of the word “reset” or “restore” on my computer. It is the same Hebrew word used in Psalm 23:3, where we read, “He refreshes my soul.”
Jesus, shortly after the miracles of feeding the five thousand and quieting the storm in the Sea of Galilee, said to His disciples, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63b ESV). Multiplying the bread and fish in His hands, Jesus restored or refreshed a fainting hungry multitude. By walking on the sea, and quieting the storm, Jesus “reset” the weather restoring peace where there had been fear and anxiety. But it is with His words in the Old Testament and New, spoken by the Breath of God, that He refreshes the soul.
There were two very difficult periods in my life when the difference between an emotional breakdown and functioning responsibly with those I loved and those with whom I worked could have been reduced to time spent meditating on God’s Word each morning. Yes, He spoke peace to me! God speaks through His Word and if embraced by a hungry soul, it energizes the spirit and breaks anxiety. Indeed, I have found over the years, that time alone with God in His Word is like a mini-retreat, reviving the soul.