Study to shew thyself approved unto God,
a workman that needeth not to be ashamed,
rightly dividing the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15
“When Frederick Douglass’s master discovered that his wife, Mistress Sophie, was teaching this eight-year -old slave to read the Bible, he sternly forbade her to do so again. “If he learns to read the Bible it will ever unfit him to be a slave, he said, and in no time, “he’ll be running away with himself.” This, the renowned abolitionist Douglass later reflected, was the first antislavery lecture he had ever heard, and it inspired him to do anything he could to read more of the Bible. He recalls zealously gathering scattered pages of it from the gutters of Baltimore streets, carefully washing, drying, and collating them to read in secret. He had begun to realize what Master Hugh (and no doubt Mistress Sophie) knew – that there was power, indeed subversive, revolutionary power, in reading and interpreting the Bible for oneself, and that the institution of slavery in fact depended on controlling biblical literacy – who can read the Bible when and how. Many years later he wrote, “Let the reader reflect upon the fact, that, in this Christian country, men and women are hiding from professors of religion, in barns, in the woods and fields, in order to learn to read the Holy Bible.” Hiding, that is, from those who claim authority to say what it means, to control its interpretation. The Bible can look dangerously different when you read it on your own. *
That may seem like a time gone by, when people couldn’t read the Bible on their own, but oftentimes, people, even today, have formed opinions of God and His word based on something somebody told them sometime. God has been portrayed as harsh, judgmental, punishing, indifferent…the adjectives go on an on. Verses have been twisted to serve someone’s purpose and some people in some religions (here in America) are told not to read the Bible, leave that to the pros.
It’s so simple and yet profound: knowing God’s word brings freedom, subversive power and can actually be a threat to slavery. What are you enslaved to? a habit, a relationship, depression, chronic pain, loneliness, a substance, fear, feelings of unworthiness, anxiety…? What if the revolutionary power of the Bible could set you free? What if some of the things you have heard about God simply aren’t factual? Is your belief system built on truth or slander? Your freedom from slavery may depend on getting to know God and His word on your own. But be warned – it could read dangerously different than what you thought!
I remember Father, the first time I read Your word. I was so shocked at how different You were from what I had been taught and believed. All of the years I had spent in slavery to fear and anger and feelings of worthiness and You set me free just from reading Your word. What an awesome God You are to love me so much that my freedom is upmost in Your heart and mind. Please help me to study Your word carefully so I can know You more fully. I ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.
*from Biblical Literacy by Timothy Beal
picture credit: anacostiaatscenter.com