I’ve been in numerous Bible Studies that seem more like collective naval gazing rather than studying scripture together. The focus of the conversation is how the participants feel about Scripture rather than the content of Scripture itself. However, the gap between discussing Scripture and discussing our feelings about Scripture is wide. In my experience, women’s Bible studies frequently fail to bridge that gap.
I confess, I’ve been arrogant and dismissive toward a lot of Bible study groups that I’ve been a part of because of the emphasis on feelings. A more loving response would have been to try to draw the participants into a conversation about what the Scripture actually says. Instead, I sat in a silent tiffy and didn’t show up the next week.
However, recently I’ve been learning the role that examining our feelings toward a passage can actually have when we’re studying the Bible. While it is not the whole of Bible study, it can have a small role. When I read the command to do everything without grumbling or dissent, I get a little annoyed. I like to grumble. It makes me feel better than other people.
My annoyance reveals sin in my heart. Pressing into and examining that emotion helps me to face my sin so that I may repent of it. What about this annoys me? What potential effects of this command on my life am I recoiling from? For me, its that in order to not complain, I have to find constructive ways to communicate about problems. In other words, I can’t leave in a self-righteous tiff.
In acknowledging what we feel, we give room for the scriptures to teach us. Emotions do have a role in studying the Scriptures, but it’s not always a pleasant process. And while I am not fond of admitting my sin to people, the times when I’ve opened up about my less than pretty emotional responses to Scripture have been good for my soul.
However, we need to be able pair this emotional intelligence with a deepening understanding of scripture. As I keep reading the passage in Philippians, I see Paul talking about some really negative, difficult things: someone he loves almost dying, a church that he’s worried about, his own sorrows and hardships. He’s not complaining about them. But he’s also not ignoring them. Through this, I learn that “not complaining” doesn’t mean “never communicate things that are hard or wrong”. It means trust the Lord, deeply and fully, so that when you’re talking about difficult things, you do it in a way that reveals more about your faith in the Lord than the difficulty of your circumstance.
If you’ve been in church long, you’ve probably been around someone who does this in a way that seems like they are putting on a face. Or maybe you’ve been the person glossing over hardships with a veneer of faith in the Lord, never letting people see how much you’re really struggling. I have too. When I read Philippians 2:14, Paul challenges me toward a genuine rootedness in the Lord so that my faith in Him is seen in the struggle.
The only way I can cultivate that trust in the Lord is to know him through his Word. And the only way I can cultivate that emotional intelligence that true vulnerability takes is to examine my emotions before the Lord.