People tend to hear what they want to hear and ignore or forget what they don’t want to hear. Have you noticed that? Say to a child, “We’ll get ice cream after you clean your room,” and what will she hear? “Ice cream.” The “clean your room” part is just not all that important.
Adults are no different. There is a reason politicians make generous promises without emphasizing the cost of delivering them. But that’s another subject…
Similarly, we read God’s word, the Bible, selectively. The beautiful passages, words of love and life and hope are the verses widely quoted on greeting cards, refrigerator magnets, and blogs. And for good reason. They are true and powerful, and we love them.
But is it reasonable to appropriate Biblical truth that offers hope and encouragement to our lives while ignoring parts of the Bible that confuse or challenge us?
“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness , and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
All of Psalm 91.
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37
“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Phil. 4:13
And many, many more.
I hang on to passages like those when I need to know that God is in control, that God loves me, that God is for me, and that God has a better plan for my life than I can ask for or imagine.
But the Bible also contains other verses that we don’t quote quite so readily.
Who, when asked for their favorite Bible verses, would quote from Old Testament prophets forecasting judgment and destruction?
“Therefore the Lord Almighty says this: ‘Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.” Jeremiah 25:8-9
“The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground..because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” Luke 19:43-44
Nebuchadnezzar did, in fact, conquer Jerusalem in 586 BC. Rome demolished Jerusalem in AD 70 as Jesus predicted. Those prophecies are important biblical truth, but they don’t show up in greeting cards very often.
Why should I apply the encouraging verses to my life if I’m not willing to deal with the…um…not-so-encouraging?
The short answer (and there is another very complex answer on correct biblical interpretation that I will conveniently ignore for now) is that we tend to read the Bible as if it was written primarily to solve our problems and meet our needs. It is not. The Bible was written to reveal the heart and character and Kingdom of God.
The better we understand the Bible, all of it, the better we know God. Then HE helps us with our problems and meets our needs.
Interestingly, many of the most comforting passages of Scripture were written to people in trouble. The promise of God’s good plan in Jeremiah 29:11 is part of a letter written to exiles forcibly taken from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. Funny, we don’t notice that part. The victorious words of Paul in Philippians 4:13 (quoted above) refer to his strength to endure and find contentment in any circumstances, which for Paul were mostly troublesome and often painful.
We want the comfort but not the trouble. Maybe they are most powerful when they go together.