Christian author Beth Moore once called the book of Leviticus the graveyard of good intentions for those trying to read the Bible from start to finish. Surely, there are Christians who can point to many monotonous, bland passages and biblical chapters, confessing that they bypass them or read them out of obligation. What should we do with the “boring” Bible passages?
A 2012 survey of 2,900 Protestant churches conducted by LifeWay showed that only 19% of those who go to church read their Bible daily, although 90% say their goal is to live a life according to God’s will. The increased appetite for prayer, the reading of other books on spiritual growth, the decision to listen to God even if this choice is costly, the practice of intercessory prayer for non-Christian friends, and the belief that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven were positively correlated to daily Bible reading.
One conclusion of the survey could be that Christians who love to talk about the Bible don’t really love the Bible itself. In any case, they are less present in the experience of the psalmist, who compared the delight of reading the Word to the joy of holding a treasure.
From duty to the pleasure of reading the Bible
Based on the surprising reality that many Christians have not read the Bible from start to finish, Pastor H.M.S. Richards advocates reading it once or even twice a year—from a general perspective, going through it at a fast pace, to better understand its unity and greatness, but also to see the history of the salvation plan in a clearer way.
Given the spiritual diseases the modern Christian is confronted with, Richard emphasizes that there is a need for concentrated doses of Scripture. He recounts the experience of a Methodist pastor who read the Bible for one-and-a-half hours each day, starting with January 1st, and was able to complete it within a month. The pages of the Bible, he says, still contain mysteries that even its most faithful readers have not yet explored. When one who digs deep into the biblical text does so to share its message with others, their prayer should resemble that of Patriarch Jacob in his struggle with the angel: “Please tell me your name. I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The struggle to keep one’s passion and interest in the Bible alive is a lifelong one, writes Katherine Forster, author of Transformed by Truth: Why and How to Study the Bible for Yourself as a Teen. We will love God’s Word only if He gives us this passion for it, says Forster, emphasizing that our part is asking to receive daily hunger for this food for the soul. If we acknowledge our lack of interest in reading and memorizing the Word, the superficial and hasty reading of the Word, or the wrong motivation with which we approach it, God may reiterate the experience of King David, for whom the Word had the sweetness of honey.
A lack of desire should not make us abandon the Word, because our sovereign God is the One who can create in us a hunger for Him and His words.
With so many things around us that distract us, the words of the Bible become less and less “precious than gold” (Psalm 19:10), and we often find them dry and boring, Pastor John Piper says. If we are honest, we’ll admit that at times we remain impassive to the miracles told in its pages and that we read about divine goodness, love, and wisdom without feeling grateful, moved, or full of admiration. However, we want to be healed of our superficiality, so that the verdict given by God through the prophet Isaiah—“You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving” (Matthew 13:14)—will not apply to us as well.
In his years of pastoral ministry, Piper says he has met many Christians who have complained that they have no desire to read the Bible, even though they feel compelled to do so. A lack of desire, however, should not cause us to forsake the Word, but should be the reason for constant prayer, for it is our sovereign God who can create in us a hunger for Him and His words. Precisely because he was aware of his own tendency to turn away from God’s Word, the psalmist asks God to create in him a desire he cannot generate on his own: “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain” (Psalm 119:36).
Prayer is always the answer, Piper says—the prayer to remain dependent on God as we open the Bible, asking, like Moses, to see His glory, the prayer for our eyes to be opened to what God wants to tell us each day, and for our hearts to be satisfied, every day, by His goodness.
Finally, our imperfection should not discourage us, Christian blogger Ruth Clemence says. The disciples slept when Jesus asked them to stand in prayer with Him, and fled when armed men arrested him, leaving Him alone on the night of torment. But they became different people after meeting the Risen Christ. In the same way, instead of feeling guilty about the times we found the Bible boring, and neglected it, we can start over, confident in the love of the living God, who promises that His mercy is renewed every morning.
What do we do with the boring parts of the Bible?
While some Christians speak openly about the struggle to find joy in their Bible study, others admit that they skip boring passages, considering it more convenient to return to fascinating passages or those that meet their present spiritual or emotional needs. It may not sound right to say that the Bible has books that are boring, or at least boring passages, (especially if you’re a priest), but if you’re honest, you’ll admit that you often don’t like to go through all those details that seem to have little relevance to modern Christians—details like the ones you find in the book of Leviticus, priest Anthony Messeh says. Leviticus might be the most difficult book to read, says Messeh, only if we consider the detailed way in which scenes such as the consecration of Aaron and his sons as priests are described. He asks himself whether we are able to find spiritual lessons in such passages or whether we should simply ignore them, to the detriment of more relevant ones.
In an article published on her blog, Christina Miller, who graduated with a master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary, says that she often set out to read the entire Bible in order to be able to hear God speaking through all its pages. It is not an easy task, she says, describing the abrupt way in which the fascinating narratives of the Bible are followed by many more monotonous passages and books, without any warning.
Through the written text, we witness the amazing moment of creation, when God commands creation and what He commands comes into being, the history of sin entering the world, with all its misfortunes, the episode of Abraham’s calling, who is promised he will become the father of a great nation (although Sarah and Abraham fail to have a child until a discouragingly late age), but also the enslavement of Abraham’s descendants, whose fate seems sealed in Egypt, until their God frees them through signs and incredible wonders.
This entire captivating narrative makes us want to learn more. However, the action contains long pauses, in which we encounter a lot of laws given to the people of Israel, with endless details about how to build the temple or the way sacrifices should be made, and genealogies that seem to never end.
Nevertheless, Miller points out, these seemingly boring passages can bring us elements that support both our individual and shared faith. The details of the building of the Tabernacle can help us understand God’s desire to dwell among His children, even in the difficult conditions of the journey through the wilderness, but also to better realize His holiness and His requirements for the temple of our body (1 Corinthians 6:19). Names (but also numbers collected from censuses) are more than sequences of letters and numbers. They show that no one escapes God’s attention, or is forgotten.
After all, isn’t this the deepest desire of our hearts, not to be forgotten by the One who bears our names carved in His palms: “According to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good…”?
Emphasizing that Scripture is “history, drama, and art” but especially the story of humans’ redemption, writer Kaitlyn Schiess recounts her discovery that seemingly dry, irrelevant, and boring passages have a message and a purpose for her urban, middle-class church. The first time she read the entire Bible, Schiess wondered why Christians find it so convenient to focus on the most popular sections of Scripture and fail to understand and pass on the beauty, intrigue, and grace that can be found in apparently unpromising passages.
How do we become passionate about Scripture, including bland passages?
We read some biblical passages again and again, while others do not excite us at all. But it is not only the sections we love that are inspired, writes Christian author Gregory Coles. Coles recalls the words of the apostle Paul, that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Too often we refer to the Bible as an ordinary book, when it is the Word of God, a “living and working” Word, which changes us as we come to know its Author.
What we need to understand, says Coles, is that it is not primarily about our ability to understand its message, but about God’s power to make Himself known to us as we read His words. Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be easy or captivating, says Coles. He emphasizes that digging deep into our Bibles will surely bring benefits, but we should always keep in mind the fundamental reason why we approach Scripture—in order to position ourselves within the range of God’s love, so that we, in turn, learn to love Him.
We should distinguish between what is difficult and what is boring, says Professor Ryan Higginbottom, insisting that a truly fruitful study can sometimes make you sweat, just like a day’s work in the garden. For those prone to confusing difficulty with boredom, Higginbottom has a simple tip: to study each passage using one’s effort, and using the most appropriate tools. The book of Revelation cannot be deciphered as easily as the book of Proverbs, he says. And passages from the Epistle to the Ephesians cannot be read in the same way as we read history from the book of Chronicles.
When the Bible, or paragraphs in it, seem boring, there is a problem either with the reading or the reader. We may feel like we already know everything it has to say, instead of realizing that it is a living word, fit to our daily needs, or maybe we forget that we are corrupt, sinful, dependent on God for life and salvation. If God is the creator of each atom, if He is, by definition, loving and full of grace, then whatever He has to tell us will surely be interesting to us, the professor says.
The multitude of rules and instructions we encounter in Leviticus may not be of particular interest to us, and the Israelites probably did not understand the purpose of each and every one of them, Priest Anthony Messeh says. However, through the food rules, the rules about the things they were allowed to touch or not, the rules about what they had to do when someone was sick or dying, God was only protecting His people when they did not know how to do it themselves.
Probably, for the people of that time, the laws regarding leprosy, the need for examination and quarantine did not necessarily make sense, because they knew nothing about bacteria or infectious diseases, information that even the inhabitants of the fourteenth century lacked. Twenty-five million people were lost during the bubonic plague. One thing we can learn from going through those long sets of laws and regulations in Leviticus is that while they do not always make sense to us, God’s commandments and laws are perfect and are meant to protect us, Messeh says.
Pastor Chad Ashby says that his first sermon was based on Chapter 3 of the book of Nehemiah, one which we would normally skip because it is filled with the names of men and women who helped repair the walls of Jerusalem. Ashby admits that he has a liking for preaching from biblical passages considered obscure or bland, because he finds that they reveal valuable lessons to us.
First, we must adapt to God’s story, and not force Him into the narrow patterns of our story. This means that repeated genealogies, figures, details, and detailed instructions have their purpose in a history that God unfolds, knowing its past effects and future impact.
Second, it is wrong to believe that reading certain Bible passages is a waste of time (especially in a context where Netflix, social media, or YouTube videos have become veritable thieves of time—we just don’t complain about them as much).
Spending a few minutes reading unfamiliar and difficult-to-pronounce names could give us some insight into our importance. We are less known, after all, than Malachi, Shallum, or Hashabiah, and other characters whose names have been recorded in the Bible forever, says Ashby, and yet God cares about us—even when He urges us to “waste our time” with tasks we do not see the value of, but which could build virtues such as humility and obedience in us.
In the end, “we don’t try to ‘get something out of’ every conversation with our kids or our wife or our co-workers” so why, asks Ashby, should we have this expectation whenever we come before God in His written Word? There is a better way to enjoy every passage, even those that seem trivial or irrelevant, motivated by the idea that we are loved by their Author as no one will ever love us and that He reveals Himself to us through His every word, accompanying us step by step in this journey of discovering and understanding Him.
Carmen Lăiu is a writer for ST Network and Semnele timpului.