The Risk of Reading by GPS
These days most people have the convenience of a GPS device. It is incredibly helpful. It can help you get to your destination in a timely fashion, avoid delays, bypassing traffic problems and construction sites. With a few swipes on the screen and a few glances at the arrows, you arrive at where you hope to get in short order.
But there could be a downside to traveling by GPS. By letting the screen (or the voice giving directions) guide your through the city or lead you through the countryside, you’ll tend to be much less attentive to the surroundings. You’re not worried about missing a turn or locating a landmark. You relax, attend to the GPS, and make the trip. And in the process, you might miss a great deal.
There seems to be a growing trend in Bible reading and teaching in our day to start every journey through a passage with “the big story of the Bible” already fully in mind. We’re told that every text we come to must fit into that big story–so we press on through every passage with that destination in mind. We allow our grasp of what we believe the big story is to be something of a “reading GPS” leading us through what we encounter in the text.
But there could be a downside to traveling through a passage with this “reading GPS” firmly in hand (or in mind). We might miss a great deal. It is common to hear people insist that we should “preach Christ” from every passage we read–that’s the GPS heading for every text we encounter. But is that appropriate?
Although it would be right to say that the totality of the Old Testament witness ultimately points to God’s overarching plan, that does not mean “that every Old Testament passage/text bears witness to Christ” (Dale Ralph Davis, The Word Became Fresh , p. 135). “Jesus referred to the things written about Him in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms–He did not say that every passage spoke of Him” (see Luke 24:25–27, 44–47; Davis, p. 135).
If we can lay aside this “reading GPS” and hold loosely the idea that we must “find Jesus” in every passage and simply travel the contours of the text, we might be surprised by what we do find. We’ll discover how people struggle and grow and change and mature in relating to God in a variety of life situations.
Everyone we meet in the pages of Scripture doesn’t see everything–and they don’t all see Christ Jesus in the midst of what God is doing in their lives. But they do learn things about dependence on God’s grace, and the sovereignty of the Lord in all of life, and the power of the Spirit, and the kindness of the saving God. They see things in the fields of Scripture that we might miss . . . and that we might actually benefit if only we noticed.
So, don’t be afraid of turning off the GPS. Pick up the Book and just read. Get lost in the text. Let the words on the page take you to new places with fresh vistas. Of course, feel free to think about how the passages you are reading might converge with others to point you to Christ Jesus, but don’t let that destination obscure what you could discover as you travel the Scriptures with no other agenda than to see what is there, right in front of you.