I love the feeling of reading a great Bible passage and having that chilling realization that I've still got so much to learn in life. It's called being "convicted". I associate it with positive feelings by now, since I know that if I follow the train of thought, and make some changes in my life, I'll feel so much better later.
This is a fantastic heuristic to follow. When I find a Bible passage that seems tough, or unreasonable, or evil, I have a choice to make. Do I ignore it and pretend I know more than the original authors? Do I think about others in my life who are failing to live up to this command? Or do I stay focussed on how this applies to my own life?
I just read a passage from My Utmost for His HIghest (OK, not the Bible, but the next best thing) which I want to share here as an example:
God nowhere holds a man responsible for having the heredity of sin. The condemnation is not that I am born with a heredity of sin, but if when I realize Jesus Christ came to deliver me from it, I refuse to let Him do so
When I read this, I immediately thought of a friend of mine. This friend has told me more than once that though he attends church, he isn't interested in accepting some of the core doctrines of the church (e.g. the divine nature of Jesus). Though I've struggled with this doctrine before myself, I eventually learned the value of obedience to learning. That is, you learn more about an argument or doctrine by following it to its logical conclusion than you ever could by thinking about it in advance.
But this is the judgmental approach to reading the Bible. I'm sure I'll eventually discuss doctrine further with my friend. But I believe it would be a mistake to take this convicting passage as evidence that I need to go confront him. That should come more from verses like Matthew 5:23-24:
So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.
What's interesting about this second passage is that the command here is to me. To be fair, the Bible does elsewhere suggest that Christians shouldn't get angry with one another. But the Matthew verse isn't saying to go talk to my friend because he messed up. It says I should go "make peace" with him. The command is to me. I can't go in to church until I call him up and earnestly try to make peace, probably by soul-searching and apologizing for something I did.
So after reflecting a moment on the original My Utmost passage, I read the rest of the page and came across this quotation:
And this is the judgment . . . that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light.
Somehow this second way of phrasing the exact same message was helpful in convicting me. I thought of all the ways I "love the darkness". I can talk to my friend about accepting Jesus and trying to escape the specific ways he "loves the darkness" when he's ready and willing. But in the meantime, I have a whole lot of darkness in my own life to work on.