More Real and Relevant than Cleverly Devised Myths
The following is my religion column for today's issue of the Tribune & Georgian. The topic is familiar to regular readers as I try to have a column a year promoting daily scripture reading. I just try to find new ways to put out that old idea as it is the most life-changing practice I can recommend:
The Bible is a very awkward book. I know that is hard to admit for a book that many of us in Camden County consider our favorite book of all time. In fact, we do more than like it, we read and re-read the Bible and pattern our very lives on its words. But being this familiar with the text can blind us to how the Bible seems to those diving between its covers for the first time.
The Bible is far more than A book. The Bible is a collection of sixty-six texts including such diverse types of writing as history, hymns and letters. The individual texts are not presented in a strict historical order and so one has to become quite familiar with the Bible to know, for example, which books were written at the same time as others.
This is just the structure of the Bible itself. Beyond issues of various types of literature found within the collection and the way the books are ordered, there is the content itself. As an Old Testament professor of mine once proclaimed during a lecture on Israel’s great king David, “The Bible is not for children. I’m sorry. It’s just not.”
That sounds a bit blasphemous. But it is true. While we do want children to grow up knowing the stories of scripture, there is good cause for leaving David and Bathsheba out of children’s story books. Children should wait to learn of David’s adultery and a cover-up that was nothing short of murder plotted by the man we like to consider the hero of the story. They probably should hold off on the full story of Samson and Delilah as well. These stories are awkward to say the least, at least when it comes to sharing them with children.
But it is these awkward stories which make the Holy Bible the life-changing Word of God that it is. For the Bible is nothing if not realistic. In its pages we read of real people. People who do not live perfect lives and who do not always do all the right things. We read of these fallible humans and how God loves them and wants something more for them than to leave them in their sorry state of affairs.
The Bible does not read like a cleverly devised myth. There is too much truth and too much tragedy. All of our scripture’s heroes are flawed, except for Jesus. And yet in Jesus, we find the ultimate tragedy as the sinless one is put to death. Humans see the way he is turning the world upside down and they want Jesus dead. And it is in this greatest tragedy in human history that we discover how deep and how broad is God’s love for us.
The crucifixion is humanity’s answer to God and yet that is not the end of the story. The resurrection is God’s reply. The power of God’s love is so strong that death can not defeat it. God loves us to much to leave us in our sin and through Jesus offers a way to redemption.
This is why the Bible tells all its awkward tales of the people who got it wrong. The folks who had every chance to live as God wanted them to live and went their own way. The Bible does not shrink back from telling the story of God’s love in such a way that we discover how flawed all the people who came before us really were. This is where we find ourselves in scripture—in the mistakes of others and God’s redemption of those flawed folks.
I read in the Gospels how the impetuous Peter was always going off half cocked. I find his betrayal of Jesus revealed in heartbreaking detail. And I also get to read how he not only denied Jesus three times, but how Jesus gave him the opportunity to say “I love you” three times after the resurrection. In this I find the life-giving Word of God showing me how I can change the way I live and find life and love, meaning and purpose.
So while the Bible may be awkward in parts and reading it through may be daunting, there is no replacement for reading and inwardly digesting its words. As one who loves the Bible deeply, I do want to offer a couple of pieces of advice to those who wish they could read and understand the Bible better: 1) read the Bible through daily and systematically, 2) do so with others.
Too often I find that people hit a bump in life and they want to run to the Bible to find the answers. Its not that the answers are not in scripture. The problem is that the text is not created to work in quite that way. There is no section with explicit advice for parents of teenagers. There is no book in the collection that tells step by step how to fix a marriage going through a rocky stretch.
The better way to encounter scripture is to read a bit each day. Doing so with a study Bible will help, as it will answer some of the questions that will naturally arise. Just keep reading it. And whenever possible, read with your spouse or with a friend. Attend a Bible study at your church or create one at your work. You will be amazed at how much more will stand out in the text when you encounter it with others.
By doing this faithfully, you will marinate yourself in God’s Word. The end result I find is that people who do this are better prepared to conform their lives to God’s will and to face whatever life throws at them.
In the past few months, I have known well two people who were faithful daily readers of scripture who learned they had terminal cancer. Both people were late in life and in each case the cancer was all through their bodies by the time they learned of it. I can’t imagine what it would be like to get that news and then to go running to the Bible to find comfort. I hope the Holy Spirit would guide someone in that case to the many verses that would provide comfort.
But I am writing of believers who well knew God’s Word. Each not only bravely faced their own death without fear, but they comforted others as their bodies wasted away. Both have gone on now to be with the Lord they met in prayer and worship and came to know better though their daily reading of scripture. In their lives and witness at the hour of their deaths, these two showed that while it may be awkward to one first encountering it, the Bible is a life-giving text.