In the Winter/Spring 2017 issue of the Concordia Journal, Prof. Erik Herrmann says in an article on the relevance of remembering the Reformation, “There is a saying that ‘there are some books that you read, and then there are some books that read you.’ For Luther, the Bible was that second kind of book. He did not see the Scriptures primarily as the object of our interpretation, but rather we are the objects as the Scriptures interpret us” (Concordia Journal, Winter/Spring 2017, p. 24).
Letting the Bible read us instead of us reading the Bible completely changes our approach to the study of Scripture. We are not to lay our own thoughts and opinions and values onto Scripture. Instead, we need to let the messages of Scripture overlay onto us and reveal where we are at in our spiritual lives.
Out initial tendencies when reading the Bible are to say, “Well, this is what it means for us today” or “What I think they meant was…” We need to be careful as Christians never to put our own personal spin on Scripture. That is not what it is for. It is not a tool that can be reshaped to match our own will or desires.
By letting the Bible read us, we let the words of Scripture wash over us and let it tell us where we are at. The messages may be hard to hear. “You are a stiff-necked people,” “O ye of little faith,” “You were not willing” may be directed at us sometimes, and we are then called to confess and seek forgiveness, to “return to God with our whole heart,” as the Scriptures say (Exodus 32:9, Matthew 14:31, Luke 13:34, Joel 2:12).
Letting the Bible read us opens us up to hearing familiar passages in new and different ways that speak to our current circumstances. The words are the same, but they can have an entirely different impact on us as adults than they did when we were children, for example. That is the Bible reading us.
And that is what happened so profoundly to Martin Luther leading up to the Reformation. The Bible spoke to him in a new way when he read Romans 1:7:
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
That verse read him and helped him to see that righteousness did not come from him, but from faith in Christ. That aha moment in Luther’s life is called the “tower experience,” and Luther described the revelation this way:
“I felt I had been born anew and that the gates of heaven had been opened. The whole of scripture had new meaning. And from that point the phrase, ‘the justice of God’ no longer filled me with hatred, but rather became unspeakably sweet by virtue of a great love.”
I pray that we all have our own similar “tower experiences” as we let the Bible read us.