The Struggle at the Heart of the Bible

Nate Pickowicz
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If you were to open your Bible to the exact middle point, you would land in Psalm 119. Written by King David a thousand years before the time of Jesus, Psalm 119 is the longest single passage in Scripture, glorying in the wonder and splendor of the Word of God. When you read the psalm, you cannot escape the conclusion that David loves the Word of God. He speaks of it with such tender affection and deep longing. He pens lines like, “Your word I have treasured in my heart” (v. 11), “I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies” (v. 14), “Your testimonies . . . are my delight” (v. 24), “I shall delight in Your commandments, which I love” (v. 47), “O how I love Your law!” (v. 97), “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (v. 103), “Your testimonies are wonderful” (v. 129), “I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great spoil” (v. 162), “Your law is my delight” (v. 174). Verse after verse, David continues to praise the Lord and declares his love for God’s Word.

It could easily be a struggle to identify with David’s sentiments. Even if we are able to read the Bible, we may not be as eager to confess such affection for it. Don’t you think you’re taking this a little too far, David? I mean, after all, it’s just a book, right? But when you read all 176 verses of Psalm 119, one thing becomes very clear: God desires believers to know and love His Word.

But this has been a constant human struggle for ages.

Famine in the Land

The people of God were prospering under King Jeroboam II during the eighth century BC, but not all was well in Israel. Despite the fact that God had blessed the nation with wealth and political dominance, the Israelites were living in open rebellion to the Lord and violating His commands. After many warnings, God sent the prophet Amos to rebuke them and deliver a message of coming judgment. Unbeknownst to Israel, their destruction was not far away. The Assyrians invaded in the year 722 BC, and carried off the bulk of Israel into captivity. However, prior to their fall, Amos prophesied a far worse judgment than captivity:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord God,
“When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for
But rather for hearing the words of the Lord.

“People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word
of the Lord,
But they will not find it.” (Amos 8:11–12)

What Amos describes is a horrible time when the people of God, longing to hear a word from the Lord, will be unable to due to His prescribed spiritual famine. In the earlier years, when they had easy access to the Scriptures, they were sluggish and indifferent to the things of God. It would be another two hundred years before they would be restored to where they were before the judgment.

We have more access to Scripture than at any other point in human history.

When we examine this point in Israel’s history, it’s not difficult to see parallels that can be made of our modern age. For example, America is a financially prosperous, politically powerful nation that is feared and respected worldwide. However, we are arguably one of the most morally loose and spiritually bankrupt nations as well. And while there may be several key factors that contribute to it, our modern biblical illiteracy epidemic no doubt has a part to play. And while it’s possible to know the Word of God and be morally bankrupt, the problem of biblical illiteracy feels very much like a judgment of God because of our national sinfulness.

The Biblical Illiteracy Epidemic

In the years following the Protestant Reformation in Europe, for the first time in a millennium, the Bible had become accessible to a large number of Christians. With the invention of the Gutenberg printing press, Bibles were being mass-produced in numerous languages and being sent around the world. This amazing advancement created opportunities for even the youngest and poorest believers to have access to the Scriptures. A popular English translation was made in Geneva in 1560, which was readily used by the Puritans and even the Pilgrims that sailed across the Atlantic Ocean. Later, in the next century, King James I commissioned the translation of the Bible, called the Authorized Version, which has been used by scores of believers all throughout the English-speaking world over the last four hundred years.

The twentieth century alone produced more Bible translations than perhaps any other time in human history, which included the American Standard Version (ASV), the Revised Standard Version (RSV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New International Version (NIV), and the English Standard Version (ESV, released just after the turn of the century)—to name just a few. We have more access to Scripture than at any other point in human history. A 2014 study found that 88 percent of Americans own a Bible. More than this, it’s estimated that the average family has 4.7 Bibles in their home. And with the invention of the iPhone, virtually every person on the planet has access to the Bible electronically. In fact, even if every physical Bible was destroyed, it would be nearly impossible to erase the digital witness of Scripture on the internet.

Learning to love God’s Word is not just possible, it’s doable.

However, despite having unfettered access to the Bible in our modern age, it seems as though our appetite for the Word of God is greatly diminished. In fact, a more recent survey revealed that 48 percent of American adults are completely disengaged from Bible reading, with another 9 percent reporting that they interact with Scripture sporadically. This shows us that the Bible has little to no impact on the lives of nearly 6 out of 10 people. Seizing on this problem, there have been countless books, articles, and blog posts about the problems of biblical illiteracy over the last decade.[1] In fact, one researcher has confessed his belief that biblical literacy has reached “a crisis point,” even describing the problem as a famine. New Testament scholar Kenneth Berding writes, “Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book,’” adding that “They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it and taught it to others.” He continues, “We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.”

But why is this happening? There may be several key reasons, such as postmodernism’s distrust of religion, self-reliance, social media distractions, entertainment, and addiction to busyness. Whatever the reason, it’s hard not to think that we’re living in a time similar to a biblically prosperous Israel just prior to the judgments of Amos.

Our problem is not that we do not have access to the Bible, or that God is deliberately withholding His special revelation from us. More than any other time in human history, His Word is sitting at our fingertips. All we have to do is pick it up. Learning to love God’s Word is not just possible, it’s doable. And history is full of believers whose love for God manifested itself in their love for His Word.

[1] In doing research, I interacted with over two dozen articles written over the last decade, all of which expressed varying iterations of lament over the present biblical illiteracy crisis.

For Further Reading:

How to Eat Your Bible

by Nate Pickowicz

Loving God means loving His Word. If you’re feeling distant from God, could it be because you’re ignoring His Word? But maybe you...

book cover for How to Eat Your Bible