Americans love the Bible. But they love the Bible like they love an ideal, not like they love a spouse. They know the Bible is important; they believe it provides inspired guidance for a life well lived; they hold it in reverence. But the truth is they don’t hold it very
According to Religion New Service, almost 90 percent of Americans own a Bible and 80 percent deem it “sacred.” Yet in a year’s time, a majority of Americans only read from the Bible four times, and the under-thirty crowd reads from the Bible less often than that. This in spite of the fact that 61 percent of Americans say they wish they read the Bible
Doug Birdsall, former president of the American Bible Society, compared the issue to America’s obesity problem. “We have an awful lot of people who realize they’re overweight, but they don’t follow a diet … People realize the Bible has values that would help us in our spiritual health, but they just don’t read
Some people try reading the Bible, like they try dieting, but soon give it up. They complain they can’t understand the Bible. They find its size and variety of genres intimidating.
They start in Genesis and read the stories of creation, of Noah and the flood and the choice of Abraham as God’s redemptive agent, and find them interesting. But then they come to the blueprints for building the worship tabernacle in Exodus, and they can’t understand what that has to do with their lives. And when they reach the purity regulations in Leviticus, they give up. The Bible seems to be a randomly diverse compilation of texts.
If God meant the Bible to be a revelation of who he is and what we need to believe, why give us stories, blueprints and regulations? Why not give us a statement of faith – the ten essential beliefs we must affirm to get to heaven? Why not write a job description?
The short answer is: had God given us a job description we would, at best, have been his employees. If he’d given us a statement of faith, we would have signed on the dotted line, and felt like we’d done our duty. Such written works may have informed our thoughts and directed our actions, but they would not have brought us into a loving relationship with God. Yet that is something the Bible, with all its diverse genres, has done for millions of people.
The Bible, from beginning to end, is a revelation – a self-revelation – from God. It is a long story comprised of short stories, poetry, wisdom and apocalyptic literature, and prophecy. The grand, overarching story recounts how God faithfully keeps his promise to rescue and restore his creation, which suffers from life-threatening, self-inflicted wounds. In the Bible we find out who God is, what he cares about and what he is doing.
But why include so many stories that seem only tangentially related to the main storyline? Particularly, why include dingy stories like the patriarch Judah’s dalliance with a prostitute or King David’s adulterous affair? Why relate the ugly story of a woman’s dismemberment at the hands of her lover or of a drunken father’s incestuous relationship with his daughters? Why all the blood and gore of battles, and the devastating destruction of war?
Stories like these, along with many others that surprise unsuspecting readers, are in the Bible because the Creator chose, at the onset of his great cosmic project, to allow his creatures the honor of working as his collaborators. They bring their short stories into his great story and, when they do, he weaves them into his magnificent storyline.
The array of biblical stories, some recounting glorious heroism, some disturbing evil, remind the reader that God can take any story his creatures submit to him and use it to advance his storyline. The crucifixion of Jesus is the most notable example of God’s ability to make everything that happens serve his story. It proves, as St. Paul wrote, “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 6/28/2014