(Reading time: approximately 3-4 minutes)
My family started reading the Bible together when I was in middle school. Hearing my dad read the Bible was a new and unexpected experience, one that left a lasting mark on me. We started in Genesis 1, and read one to three chapters a day, immediately after dinner.
Genesis has many fascinating stories I had never heard before. The first 24 chapters of Exodus are chock-full of drama. But then we got to the specs for the tabernacle, and I had trouble paying attention. Leviticus, with its successive pages of ordination ceremonies and purity laws, was almost too much for me.
We stopped reading together as a family about that time. My brother’s health took a turn for the worse and my parents were frequently away from home, spending time with him in the cancer ward of a Cleveland hospital. After he died, we never got back to reading the Bible as a family.
When I was in high school, I met an older man (he must have been in his 30s!) who encouraged me to read the Bible for myself. He gave me some pointers and I, spiritually hungry as I was, decided to give it a try. That began a routine of personal Bible reading that has lasted for nearly half a century.
With all that time spent reading the Bible, one would think that I would have it all down by now. I don’t. I have been an enchanted wanderer in the lush fields and forests of biblical truth, but I spent many years not seeing the forest for the trees. I missed the story within the stories.
There were so many stories, hundreds of them. I had heard of some of them even before I started reading the Bible: Adam, Eve, and the apple (though Genesis does not mention an apple); the parting of the Red Sea; the entry into “the promised Land; mighty Samson and treacherous Delilah; patient Job; the baby who was laid in a manger; and many more.
For years, I approached these wonderful stories as if they were isolated units of devotional material. I would read them to find instructions for living as a student of Jesus, to receive encouragement, and even to hear God’s rebuke. I learned a lot from reading the Bible this way and grew in God’s grace.
However, reading the Bible this way turns it into a spiritual self-help book. Though I was reading the word of God, the focus remained on me: What could I learn and how could I be a better Christian? The stories of Abraham, Moses, David, and even Jesus became fodder for spiritual self-improvement.
There is something right and good about that, but there is also something missing. The Bible is not primarily about me and my spiritual growth. It is much more than the collected stories of spiritual heroes and villains. It is the story of God. He is the hero of the Bible.
If we forget that, the trees will obstruct our view of the forest. We may even miss the beauty of the trees themselves because we are thinking only about what they can do for us – what soothing shade they can provide or how we can use them for building theological cabinets or spiritual fires.
The Bible with its hundreds of stories is really telling the one story of the great and good God. The account of the beginning relates his stunning project to make creatures capable of relating to him and with whom he can live. They are given the lofty role of governing his creation wisely and lovingly.
The next section focuses on the humans’ insurrection and its disastrous consequences. Then follows the Bible’s longest section, filled with stories of God’s intervention to rescue humans from themselves and restore his creation. The Bible closes with a vision of a restored creation and a humanity that is finally capable of living with God.
Seeing the Bible’s larger picture saves us from shrinking salvation to a heavenly passkey. It also prevents us from mistaking the sovereign Lord for a personal spiritual trainer. And it gives us a framework into which our own stories perfectly fit.
(First published by Gannett.)