Sometimes I don't understand the Bible

Sometimes the Bible is confusing.  

Can we admit that more often?


So much time in the Christian world is spent explaining meanings. Making points. Tying strings together. We talk and write and preach about how much we know and how much we see and how much we can learn.


I love that stuff, to be honest. In fact, I subscribe to podcasts so I can listen to more than one sermon a week. Seriously.


But can we stop pretending that we always understand? Can we be vulnerable enough to admit that sometimes we read the Bible and we don’t get it?


vulnerable approach to the bible


I don’t get Psalm 41.


I have a seminary degree. I work at a church. I have been studying the Psalms for over a year. Yet still, my response to Psalm 41 is, “Hmmm… whatchya doin’ there, God?”


It begins:


Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor!
     The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble. The Lord protects them
     and keeps them alive.
 He gives them prosperity in the land
     and rescues them from their enemies. The Lord nurses them when they are sick
     and restores them to health. –Psalm 41:1-3


All I can think is, “But what about the times God doesn’t?” There are many people who have dedicated their existence to helping the poor whose lives have been difficult as a direct result of that choice.


There are things that were true for ancient Israel that are not true for us today. God made a covenant with them: He was their God and they were His people. Attached to that covenantal relationship were rules, which were connected to promises. If Israel ran itself with the grace and justice in line with God’s character, God committed to bless them in return.


So, perhaps this kind of clear correlation between action and blessing makes sense in that time. But then, what do we do with it now?


I’m not exactly sure.


Jesus asks us to help the poor, but He also tells us we will be persecuted for our faith in Him. The promise is now of God’s presence, not of God’s blessing. Surely, that presence is a wonderful thing, but sometimes I wish actions, consequences, and rewards would be a little more linear.


The Psalm then goes from a section I don’t know how to apply to a section I don’t know how to understand.


David talks of an illness he had and how his enemies gloated over him. What does that have to do with verses 1-3? I don’t see the connection.


Also included in that lament is a wish that God would make David well again, so that David could pay his enemies back.


Again, this request has an appropriateness because David is the king of God’s covenant nation. Therefore, an attack on the king is therefore an attack on God. This means there were different operating orders than Jesus’ command to us to love our enemies.


But that still leaves the question: what do we do with verses like this today?


I don’t know.


And that is okay. It is okay to read the Bible and come away with the answer, “I don’t know.”


The Bible is not a map. The Bible is not a rulebook. The Bible is a story.


It is the story of a vibrant and powerful God filled with compassion for a broken and hurting humanity. It is a story of creation and sin and commitment and rescue. Of purpose and hope ushered in with a Love made flesh. It is a beautiful and amazing and deep and true story.


I cannot expect that any verse I choose from any part of that Story will have a perfect correlation and application to my life today. That is a selfish perspective on God’s Word. These verses are part of something much grander than my individual life.


When I read the Bible, even if I find the pieces confusing or frustrating, that does not change the power of the whole.


So, my conclusion today is that I don’t understand Psalm 41. And I am okay with that.


walk through the psalmsWalk through the Psalms is a series working its way through the book of Psalms, one Psalm a week, one post a week, in order. It is grounded in the belief that as Psalms swirl through prayers of pain and praise, they paint a portrait of a life of faith. And, as with any walk, it is better with company; all are welcome to join. To learn more, read this.


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Wonder: Hormones and Ham, Misunderstanding and the Messiness of Christmas

I first met Laura Crosby in the blogosphere, and now have the honor of being part of the same church community. She is witty and wise, and I am glad to have her words today!

One of us in our family had a meltdown Friday night.  It might have included an ugly cry and talk about budgets, Christmas cards, ham, and insensitive comments.

My husband and I both worked really hard to understand each other, but OK, honestly John worked at it a lot harder than I did because, well, not to be sexist, but I'm a girl.  And he feels really bad when I cry.

On this night our discussion was kind of like a Christmas movie marathon that seems to go on forever and eventually the stories seem to start blurring together and you get really tired.  But John persisted and kept asking questions and listening until he finally said something and I grabbed him and yelled with great joy, "YOU SAID IT RIGHT THAT TIME!"

I felt like he finally got it.  He understood.  And he felt like he had vanquished the Abominable Snow Monster, guided Santa's sleigh through the blizzard, and saved Christmas in that moment.  He was my hero again.

It made me think of what Joseph must have gone through with Mary.  I mean really.  Jesus was fully human AND fully God, but Mary was just human!  She was hormonal, and still in her teens, and unmarried and poor.  And an angel had beamed down to have a chat with and her fiance.

Think of the conversations Mary and Joseph must have had as they navigated this crazy journey of morning sickness, and gossipy friends, and a long "road" trip without McDonald's bathrooms!  There must have been tears and confusion.  Trying to understand what each other was feeling.  Trying to support each other.

Guy or girl.  Married or not.  Doesn't matter.  We long to be heard.  To be understood.  To have someone truly experience our mess with us.

Enter Jesus.  Emmanuel.  God with us in our mess.

How mind-blowing it is to think that there's nothing in my life God can't relate to.  Nothing He can't understand.  Even my ugly cries.

Because He's God.  And He left heaven to enter into the mess of our humanity.

Mary.  Joseph.  You.  I believe God enters in, and like a parent with a distraught child, He holds us close and whispers, "I know.  I know.  I really understand.  It'll be alright."

Where in your life do you long for a sense of God's presence and understanding?

"We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help."  Hebrews 4:14-16 MSG



About Today's Guest Blogger: Laura Crosby

I'm Laura Crosby, a follower of Jesus who gets it wrong a lot.  I'm trying to pay attention to the work of God in, through, and around me, but it's definitely a sloooooow process! I love creating all kinds of things, including a welcoming place in our home where there’s good food and lively conversation. I’m a friend to twenty-somethings journeying with Jesus. I try to be outside or at Starbucks as much as possible.  My husband and I approach ministry as a team and have a mutual fan club with our daughters who live in D.C. I blog at and tweet at @lauracrosby_mn.


Wonder: Rediscover the Christmas Story is an Advent series designed to help us pause and reflect on how amazing the stories of Jesus' birth really are. To break through the cluttered busyness of the season and touch our hearts with the awe of what God has done. Let's make this a season of wonder and worship, marveling together at our great God.