Carrie Soukup unpacks what to do when the Word of God feels full of condemnation and confusion.
Have you ever come across a Bible passage that hit you hard – in a bad way? Not in the kind of way that makes you want to repent be more free and holy but in a way that makes you suspicious of God, hate yourself, and want to close the book?
This Ash Wednesday was difficult for me.
The readings and the homily all seemed to be pointing a finger at me saying, “Hypocrite!” “You are the worst of the worst kind of Christians.” In the Gospel reading from Matthew’s sermon on the mount, Jesus tells his disciples not to make a show of the good things they do. Well, as a Christian author, who is on social media and into trying to get the word out, I cowered and said, “Lord, do you really want me to just stop everything I’m doing and crawl into a hole? Cause I can if that’s what you want and it seems like that’s what this passage says you want.”
Luckily, I’ve read enough Catholic books about interpretation and about the Spirit to know what was going on with in me. So, I took as step back and asked for some heavenly help.
See, the problem is, that you and I are not the only ones who can read and quote Scripture.
Satan does too.
When Jesus was in the desert for 40 days fasting and praying, he encountered three temptations in which the devil quotes Scripture. Each time he quotes it, Satan twists the meaning slightly so as to have awful results if Jesus were to take him seriously.
So, knowing that it is possible even for our Lord to hear the devil’s interpretation when he thinks of Scripture, I know it is possible for me. We can look to Jesus’ example to know what to do when we hear a voice of condemnation in the midst of the Word of God.
First – Get in a good place.
I don’t mean – free from suffering, or feeling ok. Jesus was in the desert (plenty of suffering). He was super super hungry (doesn’t lead to the best emotional state). What I mean is, “is your soul in a good place?” After Jesus was baptized, he went into the desert for prayer. If you have been at prayer, have been working, serving and led by the Spirit, as Jesus was, then you are in a good place. If not, are you way out of whack? Before anyone can really understand what Scripture is saying, we need to be surrounded by the Spirit – and in a state of Grace. Most likely you are. If you are not, a simple heartfelt, “I’m sorry. I want to be with you” is enough to put you back on the road. Grace comes flooding in. You will be able to hear the Word of God with more grace.
Second: Stand firm in your identity as a beloved Child of God.
Do you know who you are? In Luke and Matthew’s account of the temptations, Jesus is able to see through the twisting of Scripture because he is rooted in the knowledge that he is “son of God – with whom the Father is well pleased.” Now, you and I might vacillate a lot in our self-understanding and self-worth but we can ask God to tell us once again about his love before we try to unpack the meaning of a troublesome passage.
Third: Listen with the heart of God
Each time Jesus is attacked by Satan with a Scripture verse, Jesus quotes Scripture back to the devil but each time, he reveals the real meaning of the heart of God. Jesus is in touch with what God meant because he knows his Father. He listens to the heart of God and to the broader picture of his plan of salvation.
After the Ash Wednesday service, I went back to the Gospel of Matthew with a broken, seeking heart (in a good place, knowing who I am, listening to the heart of God). I was yearning for Jesus himself to read to me – for the same Holy Spirit who wrote the words to help me to interpret them and to see the whole picture.
I was delighted to see that just a few verses before the Ash Wednesday readings, Jesus said,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Satisfied for the moment that God was not asking me to hang up my hat as a writer, teacher, and prayer coach. I went to bed – pushing aside the voice of my enemy and yours – and begging for continued grace.
If you are interested in discerning how to turn to Scripture easily, gracefully and faithfully, you might be interested in a book I wrote for my daughter. I wanted to pass on to her the path (and resources) to a prayer life of depth (which certainly includes Scripture). It is called, “Collection of Grace – a Flexible Handbook for Growing a Life of Prayer.” I’d love to share the first chapter with you. Read Chapter 1 for free.
Copyright 2021 Carrie Soukup
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About the Author
Carrie Soukup writes at GraceFinders.com, compelled by St. Therese, Brother Lawrence, and St. Ignatius to help others connect intimately with God in and through the craziness of life. She has served as a curriculum writer, campus minister, high school theology teacher and retreat director. On a great day, you can find her hiking or cycling with her husband and four children.