When Reading the Bible Hurts

When Reading The Bible Hurts

I read a lot of Christian blogs, from conservative evangelicals to liberal charismatics, and the one thing they all agree on is how much they love the Bible. They talk about it all the time—how important, how beautiful this book is to them. Sometimes it’s downright gushy.

Confession: Rarely do I have romantic feelings towards my Bible. Sometimes, I even dislike it. 

Raised in the Lutheran tradition of sola scriptura, I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life reading, memorizing, and listening to teachings about the Bible. I know this book better than any other. But some days, I just can’t bring myself to open it.

If the other bloggers knew my reading habits, I’d surely be kicked out of the club. I read a tweet the other day that essentially said “if you don’t read your Bible, I don’t have much use for you.” Because loving the Bible is like a secret password: without it, no one will let you in the clubhouse, let alone listen to you.

It’s not that I don’t believe the Bible is important. Like most Christians, I believe it’s the inspired word of God, living and active for thousands of years. I believe it has the power to change lives, and I could tell about a lot of ways that it’s changed mine.

But reading the Bible hurts sometimes.

Reading it reminds me of abusive teachers, hurtful theologies, and guilt-led ministries. Reading it reminds me of the countless leaders who’ve used the text to convince followers that God “clearly says” they’re right. Reading it reminds me that American Christianity is often deeply flawed and alienating.

Some passages have become like land mines to me: I can barely tiptoe over them without triggering memories of the words being used for condemnation. A woman must be silent. The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them.

I have always held a deep belief that God loves me, that He sees me, that He wants to include me in His restorative plan for the world. It is only the Bible and its terrible misuse that has ever made me doubt this in the slightest. It is only the harshness of my fellow believers, armed with verses and ready to thump, that has ever made me feel unwelcome before the throne of God.

The Bible describes itself as a sword, but it was never meant to be used to take each other down. It was always meant to be a destroyer of our own pride, our own selfishness. It convicts, but that conviction brings freedom, not shame.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always our public experience of the Bible, and that can trickle down into our private moments with it.

I often fantasize about living far outside Christian culture and being able to read the Bible without any preconceived ideas about what it means. Or living in the time before the printing press, when the gospel was spread by word of mouth and the nature of God had to be experienced firsthand.

Because the truth is, I’d really love to love the Bible. 

I’d love to be like those bloggers, who swear up and down that the Bible is their favorite book. I’d like to believe that they aren’t just trying to gain enough Christian street cred to be heard, but that they really and truly see something hopeful in this text.

I have these little glimmers of it: a verse grabs my heart, a theme stirs my spirit. The words leap off the page and do something real in me. My mind changes. My actions change. My relationships change. And I feel beloved, included in the family of God.

It’s not an everyday occurrence, but it’s been enough to keep me coming back to that book, gingerly opening the pages, flinching a little at those land mine passages, but reading anyway.

It’s been enough to remind me that God doesn’t hold my reading habits over my head, threatening to boot me out of the club. He listens to me whether or not I’ve been disciplined in my quiet times, whether or not I’m doctrinally sound. And he whispers back: I’m glad you’re here.



Update: It’s been over three years since I wrote this blog. Since then, I’ve found a therapist who’s helping me work through spiritual abuse, and it’s been so freeing. I’m still a work in progress, but it’s been a lot easier to differentiate between what people have told me about God (that wasn’t always true) and who God really is. I like Him a lot. 

Photo: Jona Park, Creative Commons 


  • Monica

    I really, REAL needed to read this. Thank you for understanding exactly how I feel. I think I’m ready to open my Bible again.

      • Jennifer Berry

        So nice to read this! I’m researching DNRS and saw this Post.
        For the last 3 years, I’ve been focusing on my health, my needs, my well being
        But I haven’t felt I have the energy to dig back into the word, although I love it/Him.
        I think in some ways it’s been healthy and good to just know what I already know and rest in the knowledge that Jesus has not and will not abandon me if I don’t have a disciplined quiet time.
        Would my faith and Jesus’ love for me disappear if I were no longer able to read or even think? No. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ

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