To have a Bible simple enough for a ploughboy to read is one thing; to keep it simple enough to understand is something altogether different. A common experience to all who have read the Bible is its sheer complexity. To read the Bible in your own language is to discover not only that you have travelled thousands of miles into different cultures, geography and customs but that you’ve also travelled back in time too.
A common description of the Bible is to think of it as being like a library filled with shelves of different types and styles of literature. Though there is no cosy crime section there is history, graphic novels, poetry and romance, letters and biographies that aren’t really biographies at all. This kaleidoscope of literature is why it may be simple to read but not to understand since the way we read one part will be completely wrong for another.
When we read a Psalm we need to realise that it’s poetry. To imagine that it is literally true, for example that God is a real Shepherd who has a real rod and staff he uses to protect and look after his sheep, is to make a huge mistake. Instead we need to realise that David the Psalmist used his own life experience as a shepherd to describe who he knew God to be.
To read a Gospel as a biography of Jesus is to be left deeply disappointed as so much of the information we’d expect to find is missing. The Gospel writers would have thought such material irrelevant for their own purposes. Instead, we need to read them according to their own rules which are more concerned with us learning to love the man described within them more.
I love to walk around a bookshop and to sense the sheer variety of what is there. It is a matter of using your eyes, your nose, your ears and your hands to appreciate what a bookshop is all about. The Bible expects no less. To read the Bible is not like walking around a town park, as enjoyable as they are, but more like exploring a national park like the Peak District. A town park is lovely with its few views and its convenience but it is nothing compared to the grandeur and breathtaking vistas you’d find in the Peak District.
It is possible to read the Bible in a simple way, but to do so is to miss so much. Instead the Bible dares us to be subtle. The Bible dares us to accept and to embrace its subtlety and immensity that you may catch something of the subtlety and immensity of this God that we may not only know him better but in a subtler way too.