I have a picture of baseball great Mickey Mantle. It had been my brother’s, but he died at age 14. After my parents passed away, the picture came into my possession. Mickey Mantle pictures are a dime a dozen, but this one was valued at hundreds of dollars many years ago. The reason? Mickey wrote a note on the picture, signed it, and had it sent to my brother.
The Bible is valuable for a similar reason. It came from God. St. Peter argued that Scripture “never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Likewise, St. Paul wrote that “All Scripture is God-breathed.”
Over the centuries, millions of people have found the Bible to be a remarkably helpful guide for living a good life. It opens up new paths, ones that society has forgotten or never known, that lead to a fulfilling life now and forever.
Some people think of Bible reading as a religious duty, as if heaven is a kind of grad school and Bible reading is a requirement for admission. But Bible reading is not a requirement for getting into heaven any more than map reading is a requirement for going places one has never been before. In fact, not reading the map will almost certainly lead you into places you’ve never been (and wish you hadn’t gone). But like map reading, Bible reading can save you a lot of trouble.
Just exactly how does reading the Bible help a person? If it is not an admission requirement, what is it – an emotional-pick-me-up? A rule-book? Is it a spiritual grace-infuser?
St. Paul mentions four ways the Scriptures provide help. First, he claims that the Bible is useful for teaching – but don’t think of that in terms of lectures and pop quizzes. Think rather of the kind of instruction an apprentice receives to become an electrician. He is going to be wiring 220 volts soon, and so he really wants to know how this works.
The Bible teaches us about important things: loving, forgiving, trusting God, praying, using financial resources, dealing with anxiety, and much more. Teaching is about learning to do such things in a way that works. Teaching gives us the right way.
The apostle also says that the Bible is useful for rebuking. The Bible lets us know when we are doing things the wrong way. But who wants to hear they’re doing something wrong? The electrician’s apprentice certainly does. Getting it wrong can get him flattened. Likewise, when the followers of Jesus, whose actions are going to make a difference for eternity, are getting it wrong, they want to know it.
We often don’t know when we are wrong. The Bible mercifully tells us. Like the electrician who shouts at his apprentice, “Don’t touch that!” the Bible says things like, “Don’t judge!” “Don’t worry!” “Stop trying to impress people by your religious practices!” It’s not saying those things to hurt us but to save us from harm.
The Bible is also useful, the Apostle Paul says, for correcting us. It not only warns us when we are doing something wrong; it tells us how to do it right. The Bible is the story of the God who makes right what has gone wrong, the God who straightens out what is crooked. The word Paul chose, often translated “correcting,” means “to make straight.”
None of the biblical writers wore rose-colored glasses. The Bible honestly portrays the failures of even God’s best people. But it also shows us how those people got their lives straightened out. It shows us how to correct what has gone wrong in our own lives.
After teaching, rebuking, and correcting, the Bible also offers training. Training involves the development of habits, such as prayer, assuming the best of others, and giving, that free us to focus on the important things. Gretchen Rubin calls habits “the invisible architecture of daily life” and adds, “Our habits are our destiny … changing our habits allows us to alter that destiny.”
The Bible helps people train in habits that can alter their destiny.