This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues. It began with the 1st blog: Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury. The immediately preceding blog is Reading the Scriptures: The Heart of the Matter.
Reading the Scriptures is part of the way in which we communicate with God. The Scriptures convey to us not only information about God, but also form our hearts and minds in godliness. They draw our attention to God, shaping our relationship to the Holy Trinity. They teach us to pray, how to pray, and as part of our communication with God should be done with prayer. We are taught to hear the Voice of God through the Scriptures, and to humbly approach Him with our own thanksgiving, praise and petitions. Prayer reminds us that God is the Lord, and I am not His master; I am His servant who promises to do His will, He is not my servant whom I order about in prayer to get my will done.
“Never approach the words of the mysteries that are in the Scriptures without praying and asking for God’s help. Say, ‘Lord, grant me to feel the power that is in them.’ Reckon prayer to be the key that opens the true meaning of the Scriptures. (Isaac of Nineveh)” (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 101)
Prayer reminds us that the meaning in the texts of the Bible were placed there by God, and cannot be extracted purely by my personal reasoning, nor only by my study or intellect. I need to seek God’s help in understanding the revelation He has authorized to be recorded in the Scriptures. This also tells me that though the Scriptures were written for me, they were not written for me alone. They record God’s revelation to His people, and should also be read and apprehended with the people of God, His Church. Not only do I need prayer to help me comprehend God’s revelation, I need the community to whom He gave that revelation.
“…read the Holy Bible: first pray to God to open your mind to understand the Scripture. What you understand try to carry it out, and what you do not understand, let it go. That is the advice of the Holy Fathers. Holy Scripture is not to be read for knowledge, but for the salvation of one’s soul.” (Father John, CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST, p 131)
Scripture reading is formation, not just informational. There may be in them some messages and some hidden meanings that the people of God, the Church, not just me alone, must discern. So while every word of the Bible is an essential part of God’s revelation, I must come to recognize that only in community will I realize what in the Bible is essential to my salvation, and what in the Bible is really for the salvation of all of God’s people. I must have discernment and recognition that Christ came for the salvation of the world, and my relationship to Christ and the Father are established within that context of God speaking to and saving His world.
“Certainly one must ‘knock and seek’ to understand Scripture, to make out its historical context, and translate it from an archaic mentality into our own. That justifies the whole scientific apparatus of hermeneutics and exegesis. But science cannot give a meaning, if it tries to do that, it conveys a ‘contraband type of philosophy’. The meaning is revealed only to prayer, and certainly to prayer with tears. ‘For your part then apply all your zeal to the reading of Scripture, with faith and the good will that are pleasing to God. It is not enough for you to knock and seek. What is needed above all in order to obtain the understanding of divine matters is prayer’ (Origen).” (Olivier Clement, THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, p 100)
The desire to know God, and then to seek Him, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, is not sufficient to attain the goal. One must establish a relationship with God as Lord, and this is the role of prayer in reading the Bible.