How Can I Love the Bible When All I See Are Commands I Haven’t Obeyed?

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Those most obedient to the Word of God aren’t the most disciplined—but those most deeply connected to his love. My friend Dan[i] served fourteen years in the Michigan prison system—the last eight without a major ticket, which is an absolute miracle in the world of incarceration. When Dan was paroled, he gifted me his prison Bible. The day I opened it, the first thing I noticed were the colors—more verses highlighted than not. But my favorite passage in Dan’s Bible is Isaiah 53, where verses 3 through 5 are outlined in blue, underlined in red, and highlighted in yellow:

“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. . . . We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received” (GNT).

Just above this prophecy of Messiah’s death for us, former violent criminal Dan wrote in bold pink letters, I LOVE YOU JESUS. Dan ravenously consumed and lived the Bible—even behind prison walls—not because he was so disciplined but because he was in love.

But what if we don’t feel love from Scripture and in fact feel the opposite—guilt and shame? In high school, my daughter Caroline asked, “Dad, how can I love the Bible when no matter where I look, all I see are commands I haven’t obeyed or sins I might have committed?” It’s a fair question. What if, to us, the Scripture feels more like an accusatory indictment than a healing, life-giving love letter? And God, the author, seems more like a distant CEO we can never please than a loving Father? What then? My friend Dan’s answer is clear: “Take a look at Jesus.” That’s exactly what Jesus himself said: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NRSV). Again, Buechner brings this truth home—

If ever there should turn out unbelievably to be a God of love willing to search for men even in the depths of evil and pain, the face of Jesus is the face we would know him by.[ii]

Strong and courageous, merciful and loving—the face of Jesus has done more to heal my damaged image of the Father and his Word, along with many other deep wounds, than any other single factor. Truthfully, without the face of Jesus, I’m not sure if I would believe in God at all. If you are struggling with the Bible, with the God of the Bible, or with long-term, seeping battle scars . . . see Jesus. See him love, comfort, and forgive a wounded young woman in Luke 7 who bathes his feet in her tears of lament. Feel Jesus gently holding and blessing vulnerable children in Mark 10. Immerse yourself in Jesus’ crucifixion in Luke 23, where he ignores his own pain and compassionately reaches out to the suffering, unnamed criminal crucified next to him, freely promising eternity with him . . . in paradise. Turn to John 21 and drink in the radical love and sheer grace of Jesus’ pursuit and emotional healing of his trusted friend, Peter, who denied him in his darkest hour. Ask God to help you see yourself in each struggling, wounded human being Jesus touches—to see Jesus, through them, loving and healing you. Know this—the more you engage Jesus’ love in the Word, the more you will experience the Father’s healing love in the Word . . . everywhere else.

Kevin Butcher

was a lead pastor for 35 years—the last 17 in urban Detroit—and is now the founder and executive director of Rooted Ministries, Inc., a nonprofit designed to come alongside isolated, wounded, discouraged pastors and their families. Butcher is the author of Choose and Choose Again: The Brave Act of Returning to God’s Love (NavPress, 2016). He has written numerous articles and has shared the message of the Father’s love in 12 different countries.

[i] For more on Dan’s story, see J. Kevin Butcher, Choose and Choose Again: The Brave Act of Returning to God’s Love (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2016), chap. 1.
[ii] Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus: A Life Story (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2005), 79.

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