This question is among those that have been coming to CCEF in advance of our 2018 conference on Scripture.
Given this question, most of us would start with, “Please, tell me more,” or perhaps, “What’s up?” Without knowing the direction of such a dialogue, let’s assume that the person is actually reading Scripture and Scripture seems to be yielding very little.
First thought: This person is reading Scripture, even when Scripture has the same impact as that of an old phone book. What could be more impressive? The person knows where to find water and is drinking. Perhaps he or she hears stories about how others are so emotionally uplifted by Scripture and now guilt is layered on this struggle. The reality, however, is that the normal Christian life can sometimes be a slog, and Scripture is filled with words to an ancient world that are hard to bring into today.
Second thought: The person remembers a time when Scripture was lively. Perhaps his or her reading schedule has taken that turn into the minor prophets, endless lists in Numbers, or inscrutable Levitical laws, and it is time to get into the Gospels for a spiritual breather. But something has changed for this person, and advice about a new reading plan doesn’t capture it. The person is saying, “I feel lifeless, and I continue to feel lifeless when I am in Scripture.”
This brings us back to “Please, say more. What has been different in your life?” I am especially concerned about recent losses—health, relationship, job, death of a loved one, and other events that can leave a long-term mark on us. I wonder about depression, which oftentimes has no apparent reason.
Third thought: How might Scripture give words to this person’s experience? Psalm 42/43 comes to mind.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise. Why are you cast down, O my soul? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation (Psalm 42:1-5, condensed)
It’s all here. The psalmist wants to be satisfied in the Lord, and remembers the time when the Lord was close, but now life is misery and that former experience feels far from him. It turns out that the person who feels so parched and far away has been unintentionally plagiarizing the experience of the psalmist. Even more, since the psalms are underwritten by the divine psalmist—Jesus himself—could we say that Jesus is a kindred spirit who wrote the psalm before your friend did and, with your friend’s words, he or she is actually being brought into Jesus himself? This is not so much an answer to the riddle of the spiritual dryness and five steps out; it is simply to say that the Lord is closer than we think. He is so close that he is revealing his very heart.
All is not immediately well, but it is a start. Perhaps it might even be accompanied by a hint of life.
These and similar questions about bringing life to Scripture and Scripture to life will be addressed further at the 2018 National Conference. Click here for more information and to register.