A reflection on the danger of reduced Bible usage in Canada.
– By Rick Hiemstra
Editor’s note: Our article Shocking Statistics on Bible Reading recently introduced the Canadian Bible Engagement Study, which Hiemstra helped to co-ordinate. We asked him to articulate why it’s so important to read the Bible.
Why do I need the Bible – why not just go with what I feel? If I need to connect to God, isn’t prayer enough? Won’t the Holy Spirit guide me?
It seems many Canadians are asking these questions. The new Canadian Bible Engagement Study suggests that only 11% of Canadians read the Bible at least once a week, down from 21% in 1996. Over that time there has been a growing cultural trend to look within for the deepest truths about ourselves, the world and even God.
But is looking within a good idea? Can our guts or even our senses blind us in some significant ways to spiritual realities? What do we lose when the Bible isn’t used?
There’s a story in Luke 24 that can help with these questions. On the first Easter Sunday, after preliminary reports of Jesus’ resurrection were being circulated, Cleopas and another disciple were on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
Jesus, now raised from the dead, joined them on the road and began to talk to them, but “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
Why? Surely Jesus would want them to know right away that He was risen and that “death couldn’t hold him.” Why slow this down?
A clue comes in how the two disciples talk about Jesus. They describe Jesus as “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we hoped he was the one to redeem Israel” (emphasis added).
They hoped that Jesus was the one to redeem Israel, specifically to redeem Israel militarily from the Roman occupation. All of us tend to see what we’re prepared to see, and for the disciples it was no different. They were looking for a military leader, and it’s likely that they would have seen Jesus standing there in front of them alive as a very persuasive military leader indeed.
But this wasn’t how Jesus wanted Cleopas and the other disciple to understand him. How do we know? We know from what Jesus did next. He explained who He was through the Scriptures: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
Jesus knew that he would be misunderstood unless Scripture informed their understanding.
This is all the more remarkable when you consider He was right there. They were talking to Him. They couldn’t get any more direct access to Him than that. And, yet Jesus knew we often see what we want to see. He also knew He would soon be ascending to the Father, and His followers would need Scripture to ground their understanding of who He was.
Jesus, himself, knew we need Scripture to properly know who He is. He knew our senses and our guts tend to lead us to other places. That’s why He temporarily kept these two from recognizing Him. He did it so their preferred way of seeing wouldn’t blind them to what needed to be seen through Scripture.
The same is true for us today. We also have things we want Jesus to be. And we, as a culture, tend to rely too much on what we find inside ourselves.
If Jesus thought it was important to temporarily suspend the disciples’ sight so they could see Him through Scripture, shouldn’t we do the same for ourselves?
Rick Hiemstra was the lead investigator in the Canadian Bible Engagement Study. He lives in Ottawa, where he serves as director of research for The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the publisher of Faith Today magazine). Read more about the study at theEFC.ca/BibleEngagementStudy.