I admit to not reading everything that is sent to me. I skim through certain e-mail notes at work (sometimes, at my own peril!). I browse through a newspaper page in no particular order (except for the comics). I rarely read through an entire web page, especially if it contains notes off to the side.
In one sense, this is the cost of living in an information-saturated world. There’s just no way for any of us to absorb everything that we could be reading, watching, or listening to – at least, not in one lifetime.
In another sense, though, skimming – to sort out the important content from the unimportant content – is simply part of trying to make good use of my time. When I don’t have the luxury of taking everything in, I must figure out what is useful (or interesting), and what is just noise. Some days, I do better than others.
Here’s a verse that a pastor referenced in a conversation with me recently:
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15 NASB
The King James Version has the phrase, “rightly dividing the word of truth.” at the end of this verse, which is the phrase that my pastor friend used. Between the two translations, there seem to be a couple of important points implied here:
For one thing, real truth doesn’t need us to pick and choose what is correct; instead, the truth is already the truth. However, it is important that we be able to sort out what is true and what is not. Like several jigsaw puzzles mixed in the same box, we need a clear picture of what is true so that we can tell which pieces are the right ones for us to apply to life. All of the other pieces may fit together and make pictures from other puzzles, but those are not the ones that God created us to work on. We must divide the truth from lies, and find the truth among the noise around us.
Similarly, we must sometimes divide up the truth into what we need for today, versus what we may need at another time. As an example of the latter case, it’s great if we have memorized the book of Leviticus, but someone wanting to know more about God’s plan might be better served if we read through them book of Romans with them, instead. Both Leviticus and Romans are true, but one often fits a specific situation better than the other.
Said another way, we need to use the truth of God’s Word appropriately. When the circumstances call for a paintbrush, the truth shouldn’t be used like sandpaper. When truth should be used to repair, we can harm others if we use it like a sledgehammer.
Solomon knew the importance of separating out good and evil, even before God granted him supernatural wisdom:
So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
1 Kings 3:9 NASB
(See also Hebrews 5:13-14.)
Secondly, truth is already here. We must handle it carefully, keeping it pure and untainted. However, we don’t just make it up. The truth exists, even before we figure it out. A math problem in school might take a while to work out, but its answer existed before we calculated it. Some truth takes investigation, study, and research, but God gives us all of the truth that we need for our lives. Even unclear messages (or “mysteries”) that ancient generations didn’t fully appreciate were explained to us when Jesus came and showed how the events of history all fit together and led to His life. Yet today, God still keeps some things from us, but He has a plan, and knows when we need to learn more. (He also knows our limits of comprehension and brainpower.)
Like the people living in the days of John the Baptist, the problem was not that the truth wasn’t being preached to them. It was that they didn’t pay attention, or appreciate that John was telling them an important truth:
And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.
Matthew 17:11-13 NASB
(See also Luke 19:43-44, for another example of missed opportunities to recognize the truth.)
I understand that the things that are true in this world are competing with countless voices that are wrong. After all, where there is one right answer, there can be a million wrong answers. Only with a strong grasp on the truth, taken from a reliable source (like the Bible), can we even tell the difference.
In order to succeed at this, though, we must take hold of the truth that is available to us: reading the Bible, asking for God’s help in understanding it, listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and studying the words of those who faithfully teach its message. More than that, though, we must use it wisely, applying the right truth for each situation.
I don’t claim to be smart enough to figure out all of these details on my own, but I believe that if I take in enough truth, and listen carefully to God, He can bring the right answers to my mind when I need them. May you find the same blessings in your life, as well.