Why Is the Bible So Difficult?

by Andrew Forrest

Why is the Bible so difficult to understand? Anyone who has ever tried to read the Bible has probably wondered why God didn’t just make the whole thing a lot clearer. The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis wondered the same thing, so you and I are in good company. Here’s his answer.


In his fine little book?Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis writes:

“We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form–something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table….

“[However] we may observe that the teaching of Our Lord Himself [i.e., Jesus], in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in that cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. He wrote no book. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped in some degree by their context. And when we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system. He preaches but He does not lecture. He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the “wisecrack.” He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching cannot therefore be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be “got up” as if it were a “subject.” If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, “pinned down.” The attempt is (again, I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.

Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader [He’s definitely not alone in this, as I have asked this EXACT same question many times! –AF] who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian) that of lucidity and orderly exposition….

“Since this is what God has done, this, we must conclude, was best. It may be that what we should have liked would have been fatal to us if granted. It may be indispensable that Our Lord’s teaching, by that elusiveness (to our systematizing intellect), should demand a response from the whole man, should make it so clear that there is no question of learning a subject but of steeping ourselves in a Personality, acquiring a new outlook and tempter, breathing a new atmosphere, suffering Him, in His own way, to rebuild in us the defaced image of Himself.” [My emphasis. –AF]

from?Reflections on the Psalms, by C.S. Lewis, pp. 112-114

In other words, the Bible is not so much to be learned as to be experienced. Perhaps the truth that the Scripture conveys can’t be truly learned in any other way. Perhaps the difficulty is part of the point.

So, the next time you stumble across something in the Bible you don’t understand, don’t give up: God is trying to tell you something important.





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1 comment

Paul July 15, 2016 - 10:14 am

The Bible is difficult. I tried several attempts at reading and understanding it, and I just never could warm up to it on my own. I found I’d read a page or two and just not have a clue what I read, in most cases. That’s what I signed up for a Bible study with men who were at various different stages in their walk comma and together, with the help of a skillful Bible study workbook it all began to make more sense. Not sure why, maybe just having other people like me struggling through it together did the trick, maybe having a good work but did the trick, maybe it’s all the praying we did before and after each Bible study. Not sure, but what I had failed miserably at alone, suddenly became fairly easy when I tackled it with a group of other men.


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