Read the Bible with… Miroslav Volf

Where do you live and go to church? 

I live in Guilford, Connecticut. I go to church in Guilford and New Haven. One is a free church, a tradition in which I grew up, as my father was a Pentecostal minister. The other is highly liturgical church, not unlike the Catholic church to which I would always go as a teenager for Christmas midnight mass.

What was the first book of the Bible you ever read?

I don’t recall. It must have been one of the gospels. I grew up with the Bible, and the transition between the Bible being read to me (mostly by my father for morning devotions) and me reading the Bible was gradual.

I remember one summer when I was 10 or 12 years old trying to read the entire Bible, and doing most of the reading sitting on a branch in a middle of a huge oak tree in our back yard. I skipped all the genealogies, I could not wade through Leviticus and Numbers, and I did not make it to the end, but it was still an important experience.

Name a Bible character you resonate with and why.

I resonate with different characters at different periods in my life, and I resonate with different aspects of a character at different times—never with the entire character. I resonate with Abraham, for instance, stepping into the unknown, believing the promise, but not with Abraham about to kill his son in obedience to God. I resonate with characters that have aspects to them with which I cannot resonate, characters marked by tensions, who are never just one thing, but always engaged in struggle with themselves and the world. Abraham was such a character.

What are you reading in the Bible at the moment?

The Gospel of Luke.

Where do you read the Bible?

It can be anywhere. The place does not matter. Now I often read electronic versions of the Bible. But I am a bit annoyed about that. I enjoy feeling the pages under my fingers, oily pages made wavy by repeated use. Each such page reminds me that I am—that I ought to be—a person of one book.

What’s one thing from the Bible that’s stuck in your brain at the moment?

I am struck by how prominent joy is in the Bible. The Gospel of Luke is a good example. It starts with joy and it ends with joy. But it is not a easy joy, not fun, not even happiness, not a kind of emotional high. The gospel full of suffering and pain, it is full of moral seriousness, not about mere pleasant emotions; the gospel is about a story that begins with the beginning and end with the end, not about mere moments of experience. And yet joy is one of its most prominent emotions.

Name one part of the Bible you keep coming back to again and again and why.

The book of Job. Righteous and rich man of high repute, afflicted by immense suffering, with God’s full knowledge and God’s permission. God was against Job, for a while. And Job could not do anything about it, except suffer through with full knowledge that his suffering was not deserved.

In one or anther way this kind of struggle with God in a world in which bad things happen to good people is the great affliction of our lives; we get suffering we don’t deserve. It is the obverse of the great blessing of our lives, namely that we also get many extraordinary goods we don’t deserve, and we get them even when we deserve the exact opposite of them.

Perhaps Job’s kind of suffering is a way to come to understand that God doesn’t matter just for the goods God delivers, that God matters more than the goods God delivers, in part because God is the source of all goods we have and of our very life.

What advice would you give someone struggling to read the Bible each day?

I struggle to read Bible each day, and I often fail. My advice to myself? Neither your human worth nor your salvation lies in your accomplishments or failures. Both are a gift.

Seek to be close to God—the source and the goal of your life; seek to learn more about Jesus Christ,—the Word made flesh and the prime exemplar of humanity. If you do, the Bible reading will take care of itself. And don’t read just to read and to have read. Read to be read, to have the Bible read you to yourself so that you can come to know yourself and be transformed.

Professor Miroslav Volf will be speaking in Sydney in August on pleasure, meaning, and how to live a truly good life. You can find out more here.