Many people explain religious division by saying that the Bible cannot be understood. Some argue that anything coming from the mind of God must be beyond our ability to comprehend. Others say that the Bible is so old, so far removed from our culture and language, that 21st century people can’t possibly understand it. But if God has spoken to us, we can understand His word. And we must.
God said to the ancient Israelites, “For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). They could both understand and obey God’s instructions. He expected them to. That was true of the Old Covenant given through Moses, and it is true of the New Covenant given through Christ.
Consider what the inspired New Testament authors said about their message. They wrote to produce belief (John 20:30-31). They wrote to reveal God’s wisdom (Ephesians 3:4-5). They wrote to instruct us (1 Timothy 3:14-15; 1 John 2:1). They wrote to warn us and stir us to action (1 Corinthians 4:14; Jude 3). Clearly these men expected people to understand what they said. If their words are incomprehensible, then how can they accomplish their purposes? “For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end” (2 Corinthians 1:13).
If the Bible can’t be understood, then God hasn’t spoken to us clearly. That means He is either unable or unwilling to do so. We could hardly think He is unable. If He is unwilling, it means He has purposely left us with no way to know Him or His plan for us. Yet, Jesus promised that we will be judged by His words (John 12:48), and that His words can bring eternal life (John 5:24). If Scripture can’t be understood, then it defeats its own purpose.
Jesus said that God’s word is truth, and that it sanctifies us, or sets us apart to Him (John 17:17). In the same breath, He prayed that all who believed in Him through that word would be united as one (verses 20-22). God wants unity! Would He then make His word, the basis of that unity, something we can’t understand? God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Would He then make the gospel, His power to salvation (Romans 1:16), something we can’t all comprehend? God wants us to “speak the same thing” and to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). How can we, unless we are united in our understanding and application of His will?
Does all this mean that everything in the Bible is easy to understand? No. Even Peter admitted that some of the things his fellow apostle Paul wrote were difficult (2 Peter 3:15-16). But he also warned that people who twisted those things brought destruction on themselves. That implies that understanding them is not only possible, but essential. God wants us to give careful, prayerful attention to His word so that we can handle it rightly (2 Timothy 2:15).
I’m amazed that so many people express dismay at religious division, then perpetuate it by insisting that we can’t understand God’s word. To do so is to blame the division on God. The problem is not with God, but with us. The problem is not in our inability to understand God’s message, but our unwillingness to accept it. “So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).