Romans is still very much on my mind, and not just because we are just now finishing it in our daily reading plan. It is still very much on my mind because of its reputation of being difficult to understand.
The entire Bible has a reputation of being difficult to understand, but no book of the Bible has that reputation accepted and emphasized more than Romans.
In fact, I remembered a story this week as I was thinking of these things. The story involved my Bible college’s New Testament professor. On one occasion, he visited a local church. Someone there asked the professor if he knew anything about Romans.
“Well,” the professor said, “I’ve been teaching Romans for 40 years, so I know a little about it.”
This story was shared with me back in my Bible college days as an example of how difficult Romans is. The idea suggested by this story is that if this professor only “know a little about it” after teaching it for 40 years, then it must be really hard to understand.
And yet, in our last blog I said it wasn’t that complex at all. I said, in fact, that Romans is “fairly simple in structure”. I then diagrammed that structure (off the top of my head, no less) to show how simple it really is.
So how can this professor say he only knew a little about it, and I can say it is simple? There are two reasons: 1) the Bible isn’t as complex as we think and 2) it is complex in a different way than we think.
Let’s start with this first reason. As we said earlier, the Bible has a reputation for being difficult to understand. This reputation has existed as long as I have been alive (which is not that long, comparatively speaking, but is something) and is pretty much accepted without question.
And that is something that needs to change. The fact of the matter is that the Bible is not that complex at all. Paul himself says as much in 2 Corinthians:
Paul expected his readers (most of whom were not that educated or insightful) to understand his writings, that is, the letters he sent which have now become our Epistles or books of the Bible. He didn’t think those letters were that hard to understand.
Now Peter does say there are some hard things in these letters in 2 Peter 3:
But that is “some things”, not all things. Not the letters or books in their entirety. Just a few parts of them.
So I think it is right as well as fair to say that the Bible isn’t as complex as popular understanding makes it out to be. I think it is possible that even a book like Romans can really be something not just understandable but also relatively simple.
Labyrinths and Pools
That takes us to the second reason, which is that the Bible’s legitimate complexity is not the complexity we often think it is.
I realized this as I reflected on this idea this week (Sunday after worship services, to be exact). As I tried to rectify the story of the Bible college professor who wasn’t sure he really knew Romans at all with my confidence that I knew the structure of Romans (a confidence I began to fear might be unfounded arrogance), I realized that we were really talking about two types of complexities. I call those types labyrinths and pools.
Labyrinths are complex as we typically understand complexity. They have multiple passages that diverge and intersect and dead end. Their complexity is intentional, in fact. They are designed to hide their truths and keep them hidden.
Pools, on the other hand, are deep. Their shapes are usually not complex at all, mostly being a circle or rectangle or kidney or some other geometric form we can all immediately identify and understand. But that shape goes down a long way. In the case of a diving pool, such as this one in Dubai, it goes down a very long way.
And the Bible is much more like a pool. It is not as complex as it is deep. It is not as much hidden and convoluted and it is profound and layered. This means that it can be known, just as I do know the gist of Romans, but also that there is always more to find, just as I discovered the ideas of way and life in this reading.
Getting Out of the Labyrinth and Into the Pool
What this means for us is that we need to approach the Bible much more like the pool it is rather than the labyrinth we have mistaken it to be. We need to believe that we can familiarize ourselves with its writings to the point that we “know” them while also being aware that there are more depths to plumb.
And the only way to familiarize and plumb in to get in. Rather than avoiding the labyrinth that looks unfathomable and thus intimidating, we need to jump in the pool and begin splashing around.
Do that, and you will find some fantastic things. You may also have some fun as well.