Are you stuck in your childhood, Sunday School, fun-little-song edition of the Bible? If you don’t look for and expect to discover deeper understanding, you won’t find it.
If you are like me, when you read the Bible a voice whispers in your brain, “I already know this story.” Our brains work that way—they connect what is coming in through our senses to what we already know in that area. Unfortunately, as a result, it is very tempting to just go through the motions—read the Bible story, but don’t expect anything new.
The Book of Ruth is a good example. When I first heard this story, I thought of it as a Disney princess story, right up there with Snow White, Cinderella, Ariel, and Elsa: A beautiful young woman, who is as plucky and nice as she is gorgeous, falls into hard times and is mistreated. After many trials a prince comes to her rescue, and they live happily ever after.
The story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz is so much more than that. Romans 15:4 tells us that we had better keep reading. If scripture is to teach and encourage us, to help us grow in endurance, and give us hope—we need to dig into these stories as if we’ve never heard them before.
How? Try using methods of learning that you haven’t tried before.
- Read the story out loud, with expression, as if acting it out. Find or write a Reader’s Theater version and use it with your family or study group. Bible stories were written to be heard.
- Learn about the people of the time, their culture, their laws, and their mindset about God. If we only hear the story through our cultural/religious filters, we will miss so many of the nuances of meaning that are important to the story. You can do this through reading historical fiction about biblical characters because the authors will have done a lot of this research for you. Keep the Bible close by and refer to it often when this surprise you or provoke questions. Think about this story in the context of the whole Bible.
- Be a detective and look for the motivations of all the characters. Try to determine the “why” of their actions and spoken thoughts. Notice any changes in their characters, and try to see what caused the change. Note their family history and experiences.
- Sometimes the clues are in the grammar. Some people aren’t named and others are; can you guess why? If the author switches from big picture overview to a detailed story, pay attention—there’s a reason the author chose to feature this story.
- Read a few verses, think about what it means, and draw it, rewrite it in your own words, or explain it to a six-year-old.
Choose a way that fits your learning style to really study the Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind as you do so, and God will speak to you.