I'm in a Bible study that scares me.
We've decided to tackle the book of Romans, a book that has intimidated me for a long time. And rightly so. Martin Luther calls it "the most important piece in the New Testament" and the "purest Gospel" and that it'd be a great use of time to "memorize it word for word and occupy [yourself] with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul." Heavenly manna, that epistle.
Or take Augustine, who converted to Christianity by reading Romans. Or N.T. Wright, who calls it "a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision." It's a masterpiece that the church has cherished, and has been the subject of theological reflection and devotion pretty much since Paul wrote it. It's just that good.
But all of this attention has made the book feel weighty to the point of being unapproachable, as if I couldn't possibly get it unless I devoted years to its exclusive study, memorized it, and dreamt about it. I avoided Romans because of this fear, sticking with the rest of the New Testament, leaving the "formidable challenge" to the church's scholars. With a letter as big and important as Romans, it seemed more responsible to be taught what the letter meant rather than encountering it myself. And why not? Plenty of holy men and women have yielded rich treasures from their reflection on it, stockpiling the Romans treasury with plenty. Why add anything? Won't my discoveries be copper coins compared to the gifts already there?
It's a silly conclusion for a silly fear, I know. Even though I believe in Scripture's clarity and the unique gifts of each reader's encounter, Romans felt like the exception, the unscalable mountain. But worse than my fear was my shame to admit it. I'd sat in plenty of sermons and classes on Romans, but felt no closer to apprehending it as the masterpiece that it is. I (wrongly) felt foolish that I still didn't quite understand what Paul means and how all the arguments go together. I'd received a vague working knowledge of the text, but had never invested myself in its honest study, which includes saying "I DON'T GET IT" and "Wait, I'm confused. Can we back up a bit?"
To my surprise, my friends acknowledged a similar sheepishness. We all sensed a kind of intimidation to properly "get it" and uncover those riches we keep hearing about. So once a week, after sharing a meal, some friends and I work through Romans, taking the mountain head-on. We've got the wisdom of the church to help guide our ascent, but we're still the ones climbing. And though we're probably not blazing new trails, we are walking on them instead of admiring them from a distance. We want to get to the vista and yell out, "Yeah, Luther! You're totally right!" I don't know how long it will take us to get there, but in humility and submission to the Spirit and the Word, we're on our way.