Kierkegaard has explained that there is “reading and reading”. The Word is given not to be observed and interpreted, but to effect and transform. Yes, understanding what is contained in the Word is a part of understanding anything — but there is a kind of reading to understand which keeps the text trapped and distant.
He gives this analogy: a king issues a command. The public begins to “interpret” his command. The interpretations become more complex. There is an entire literature dedicated to reading and writing upon the interpretations. But at no point is command ever obeyed.
Since the Word is a “mirror” according to James, Kierkegaard also condemns a kind of reading which sees the mirror but never looks into the mirror.
To really read the Word, we must be “alone” with the Word:
Oh, to be alone with the Holy Scriptures! — and if thou are not, then thou art not reading the Holy Scriptures.
That this thing of being alone with God’s Word, that this is a dangerous business, is tacitly admitted ….
And then he makes an interesting confession:
And to my thinking it is only human that a man shrinks from letting the Word really get the mastery of him — if no one else will admit it, I admit that I do. It is human to beg God to have patience if one cannot at once do what one ought to do, and yet promises to strive; it is human to beg God to have compassion, seeing that the requirement is too exalted for one — if on one else will admit this of himself, I admit that I do it.
This coming face-to-face with God in the Word of God is a dangerous business. Perhaps the reason it does not seem so, is that we so rarely read.
Kierkegaard speaks of those who do not read the Word at all — most. Then there are those who read in some sort educated way to learn about the text — but not to let the text change them. And that is not even the necessary reading. The reading which is needed is the reading which perturbs one, that changes one.
If we have not had the experience of asking God for patience and mercy when we read the Word, then it is perhaps because we have not read to be changed. Now I am not saying that should be reluctant to change: we must change. Instead, I am saying that we if have not read in such a way as to feel weight of the words in the Word, then we have not read rightly.
(part four will follow)