Why you must do the hard work of thinking about scripture

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2)

Paul tells us to be transformed by “the renewal of your mind”. Whatever that may mean, it seems clear enough that the renewal of our minds is for the purpose of discerning God’s will. Discernment has to do with understanding. Paul’s point is that if we are to understand and work out the will of God, we have to – at some level – engage our minds in order to know it.

In Isaiah 1:18, God says “come now, let us reason together”. God wants to reason with you. But reason, by definition, requires the engagement of our minds. We reason with our brains, thinking and working out what seems reasonable. God, who is far above us and does not need to tell us why or how he does anything, nevertheless calls us to reason with him. Who are we that God should explain himself to us? Yet, he chooses to explain and communicate something about himself to you and I.

Here, then, lies the issue. If we are prone to throwing up our hands and saying “I don’t understand” to shut down thinking through scripture, or we refuse to engage with God’s word meaningfully, we are throwing God’s gracious desire to reason with his creatures back in his face. We are saying to God “I don’t care what you have communicated, and I don’t care that you condescend to reason with someone like me, I don’t want to engage”. God wants to communicate with you, he wants to reason with you, he gives us his word so we can understand something about him. If God is there and he has communicated something to us, surely it is vital for us to work out what he has to say.

Now, I am not saying it is wrong to find the Bible difficult to get your head around. It can be hard to understand at times. What I am saying is that we should not throw up our hands in despair, claim we can’t understand and therefore not bother trying. Simply because something is hard does not make it worthless. Simply because something is hard doesn’t mean we should give up trying to pursue it. Simply because understanding God’s word involves engaging our brains in work that is sometimes difficult and intense does not mean we should give up trying to understand it altogether.

Rather than throwing in the towel, perhaps we should pray that the God who communicates would make his word clear to us. It makes sense that if God wants us to understand him, he will make himself understood and help us if we bother to ask. It means rather than saying “this is too difficult”, we should wrestle with the text until we come to understand it. We should engage our brains in trying to understand and our prayers in asking God to make it known. That may be hard, that may take a long time, we may not be natural readers and thinkers but it is the necessary work we must all do if we are to understand what God has to say to us.

God calls us to renew our minds so we can discern his will. His will is written for us in scripture. That means we must engage our minds and wrestle with even the hardest bits of the text so we can understand what God has to say. If God wants to reason with us, we must be prepared to reason with him. We must be prepared to engage our minds and work out what seems reasonable based upon what he communicates. 

In reality, if we won’t engage our brains we are not really loving the Lord in the way he commands us to do (Mk 12:30; Lk 10:27). We may love him with our hearts and desires, we may serve him with our strength but if we won’t sit and do the hard work of thinking about the Bible we are still holding back our minds from the Lord. To do that is to fail to love him in the way he demands to be loved.