The Bible is full of lofty concepts. And it should be. The Bible is a book about God. In fact, it’s God’s book about himself; God is revealing himself through the Bible. What could be bigger, higher, and more difficult to grasp?
As Christians, we read and wrestle with the God we find in Scripture. We study and seek how to apply what we learn. How does God’s mercy affect your fraught relationships at work? How does God’s love impact the way you deal with frustration? How does God’s role as Creator shape your views on LGBTQ+ issues? How do God’s demands for justice inform your politics?
Life in a fallen world unavoidably raises difficult questions. And the answers we find in God are not always easy.
Which is why I love verses like Proverbs 14:4. It says,
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”
You could avoid the work of cleaning messes by having no oxen, but then you’d also have little to no food. It’s a simple truth put into plain language. There are things in life that require hard work.
Kids are a great parallel to this. We might say, “where there are no children, everything is clean, but abundant joy comes by the energy of the child.”
We might also say, “Where there are no parties, the kitchen is clean, but abundant friendships come from dining together.” A great meal can require a big mess. There’s the mess of the preparation and the mess of the clean up. But year after year we celebrate together with meals, proving that the messes are worth it.
Bible study is another great example of this principle. Deep reading can be mentally taxing. Reorienting our lives to God’s decrees can be dizzying. Withstanding the purifying fire of God’s Word can be painful. Yet, we persevere—or we ought to!—because the trade-off is worth it.
Frankly, we don’t need the Bible to tell us that there are things in life that require hard work. But when faced with the many difficult truths and applications of the Bible, it is a breath of fresh air for the Bible to tell me something I already know. Simple and plain truths like Proverbs 14:4 make the harder truths more believable, even if they aren’t any easier to put into practice.
When Jesus instructs us to “turn the other cheek” or to “not be anxious”, he does so knowing that “oxen lead to messes, but they also lead to food.” Jesus is keenly aware of how the world works. He hasn’t leapt from the pages of a fairytale, living and teaching as if everything is always good and right and perfectly easy.
Proverbs 14:4 can show us that the Bible isn’t a book of impossible ideals detached from reality. It is earthy. When faced with the challenging questions and answers of Scripture, we can be sure that we are standing on firm ground.
We can also be sure that God knows that there are some goods that can only come with hard work and messes.