What does it mean to study the Bible? There are so many sorts of students. For example, there are scholars - they may be expert in the original languages, or have spent long years scrutinising differing texts or comparing ancient manuscripts. In recent centuries there have been Young or Cruden or Strong of the concordances (a work now made vastly easier by computers), or Vine of the Expository Dictionary or Barclay of the Daily Study Bible, Tischendorf of the ancient manuscripts, Thompson of the chain references, to name those which come to mind. Then there are those not known by name to us whose cross references and notes enable their successors to compare scripture with scripture, and obtain a more complete view of what God has done and said. To all such we owe a great debt.
Not many have such skills or such opportunities. Many students of the Bible are plain people like you and me, interested to follow where others have led, inspired perhaps to burn midnight oil, urgent to discover for ourselves what God is doing and has done. We wish to discover whether what friends or leaders tell us stands up as truth. Is there a Plan as some have spelt it out, or is God's Purpose in fact unfathomable, powerfully moving, but revealed only enough for us to be able to play our own little part in it. Through study we can indeed read what God has said long ago, and now be trained by Him to be good soldiers, loyal children. Sometimes words flash out from the sacred text to enlighten our minds, warm our hearts. Or the example in the lives of our fellow students can bring meaning to the dusty words of men writing long ago.
But there may be some of us who cannot truly be said to study. We read. We listen. We accept what we are told. Perhaps we are dyslexic, or better using our hands, or confused, or just plain tired. Even those most enthusiastically studious will sometimes just come to a stop. This is understandable. Did not the writer in Ecclesiastes say that study is a weariness to the flesh?
At such times I myself am apt to settle down and relax with a good wholesome Christian novel. Not every Christian novel - I am very cautious of combining fiction with interpretations of scripture. But the sort of story where people live out their faith and grow in their faith in the fictional circumstances. A lot of such stories come from years ago, but the gospel underlies the story even when the author is not being openly didactic. George Eliot for example may have lost her early faith, but in 'Adam Bede' she understands and portrays the motivation of an earnest young woman who is a Methodist preacher. Or Jean Webster's 'Dear Enemy' may be all froth, but the froth covers but does not hide Christian service and the development of character.
Most recently I have been re-reading 'The Dean's Watch' by Elizabeth Goudge. It is a story set in a cathedral city of the 1870's, featuring an elderly clergyman, an atheistic watchmaker, a very elderly spinster, a servant girl and an apprentice, among various others. Looking back after reading it I notice the interplay in the story of scriptural truths. Such as, first and foremost 'God is love' (1 John 4.16); and then, joy in the created world, in every good and perfect gift (James 1.17); and the beauty of developing Christian character (James 3.13), the gentleness of wisdom, (v17) which is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
That is the sort of wisdom we need in our studying. And in our daily lives too.