I have this memory from around age thirteen of being at one of those huge youth conferences that pack out a football stadium. Sermons—or “talks”—were given periodically throughout the day between concerts and worship sets, and one in particular has stayed with me. The man on stage was talking about sports, which I did not find remotely interesting. He was rambling off statistics about players and trophies and finals and drafts, prompting cheers from different sections who were struck with home-state pride at the mention of “their” team or star player. Suddenly, he switched to the Bible. He quoted a verse and asked where it might be found in Scripture. Aside from some mumbling, there were only crickets. He then began running through statistics and facts much like he had before, but instead of sports, it was Bible trivia. He would ask a question about Paul or about the Bible as a whole—and again, crickets. His point was something along the lines of this: If we treated the Bible like our sports, we’d all basically be Bible scholars (and thus, the kind of Christians we are supposed to be).
At this, I felt a seed of shame planted in my gut. I didn’t have a storehouse of sports trivia in my brain, but I did have the Titanic. My obsession began with the 1997 movie, but it quickly became a desire to know everything that could be known about the historic shipwreck. I knew how many people were on board, how many were rescued, what percentage of those rescued held third class tickets. I knew the china patterns, which varied by class. I even poured over official witness testimonies and dreamed that one day I could explore the wreck myself. The Titanic was “my thing.” But why wasn’t the Bible “my thing”? Why didn’t I know the order of the days of creation, or which disciple was called by Jesus first? Am I even a Christian if I can’t recite the books of the Bible in order?
One huge problem here is the belief that God’s world and God’s word are somehow in competition with one another. This is just silly. Ask my friend who is both a skilled mathematician and a devoted Christian, or my dad who works full time in agriculture and loves Jesus. Interest or expertise in a particular subject matter does not by nature reduce our ability to know Scripture. Which leads to a second problematic notion: the idea that Scripture is a collection of numbers and statistics, a thing to be studied and mastered. No, it is something quite different; it is something to be loved. Scripture is something meant to be taken in, ingested, loved: “My soul keeps your decrees; I love them exceedingly” (v. 167). It is meant to give shape and composition to our lives: “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous ordinances” (v. 164).
The difference between studying the Bible as an object and encountering Scripture is the difference between reading a list of ingredients and taking the first bite out of a fresh-baked pie. It’s the difference between an acquaintance and your dearest companion. It’s the difference between reading about a waterfall and standing beneath one. There is a lot to know about the Bible, and they are good things to know. But the Holy Spirit brings God’s word and God’s world to life in ways that can’t be known only through objective trivia. It’s a different kind of knowing. You can soak up all of the information about all of the things in the whole world, but if you have not love…
Know how the synoptic gospels compare to one another, but don’t forget to love them. Have theories about the when and how of the two flood accounts in Genesis, but don’t forget to know them. Memorize a psalm, but don’t forget to pray it. Plumb the depths of the prophets, but don’t forget to pause and delight over the treasure you have found there. After all, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (v. 162).