When Scripture is a Whip

Some time ago I met a former missionary who, through the course of his long life, learned to think of the Bible as a whip. The metaphor seemed apt to me then, and to this day it still resonates. Not least because for a long time I avoided reading Scripture, often going to its pages in search of comfort only to find rebuke.


A few years later a therapist diagnosed me with obsessive-compulsive disorder. And like other religious people who suffer from OCD, I tended to be overly scrupulous when it came to all things spiritual. I would self-flagellate—but only mentally, of course—and then punish myself further for flogging myself too much or too little.

Until recently, I had never read the Bible in its entirety because I believed doing so would only prompt me to engage in morbid introspection (and more flogging, naturally). As the son of a Baptist minister, I also believed I had already absorbed the bulk of the Bible simply by marinating in a lifelong bath of sermons, studies, and devotional time.

Why should I read the Bible as a whole? I wondered. Aren’t I already familiar with it, more or less? Will I ever really need to know more about, say, Nehemiah?

Nevertheless, on New Year’s Day, when a friend told me she planned to read through the Bible in 2015, an unexpected thought materialized: I want to do it, too! How had my reticence to read the Word given way so suddenly to a readiness to be a student of Scripture? Perhaps the Holy Spirit had been working on me behind the scenes—pulling levers in my heart and mind, causing unseen cogs to begin turning, undetected.

Why should I read the Bible as a whole? I wondered. Aren’t I already familiar with it, more or less?

So finally, at age 36, I decided to read the Bible from cover to cover in hopes of finding illumination, instruction, and intimacy with God. I might find an instrument of correction, too, but I knew the Word was more than a whip. If my father could find a wealth of wisdom in its pages as a pastor, I believed I could, too. And I haven’t been disappointed.

This year I have found the Bible to be alternately baffling and beguiling, brutal and beautiful, disconcerting and calming, mundane and magical. My readings have also prompted countless texts, emails, phone calls, and face-to-face conversations with my father about the meanings of many passages—and I believe it’s enriching our relationship.

I am pleasantly surprised by all these things. Psalm 119—the longest chapter in the Bible—best summarizes my experience this year. The author exults in the commandments of God in a way that children seldom revel in their parents’ instructions. “I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word” (Ps. 119:16). I, too, have come to find great joy in reading the book I formerly feared—what was once a whip has become a source of wonder—and yes, delight, too.


Illustration by Jeff Gregory

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16 I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.

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