Getting to Know the Bible (Part 10)

I really like the Bible. I am passionate about helping others get into it, too. It’s pretty intimidating to get started so we created an introduction course called Getting to Know the Bible. It’s 10 sessions given every year to whoever is interested. It is one of our Gifts for Growing.

Last week, I hosted 12 people for a session of dialogue and teaching on the Old Testament Histories. That’s Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 &2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, and 1 &2 Chronicles. That’s a big chunk of the Bible , so, of course, this was not an in-depth study. I offered an approach to these texts that I think is really helpful. This part of the Bible includes some of the most brutal passages in scripture. The people of God are constantly at war with their neighbors and the powerful people are often evil. How do we approach THAT?!

Longing for a Place You Have Never Been

Reading these ancient books is like traveling to a very foreign land. Your thinking and your understanding will not fit there. It will be uncomfortable. Why go at all?

One of my top destinations in the world is Aberdeenshire in Scotland. I’m sure it’s beautiful, and there is lots of Scottish history and culture to enjoy, but the main reason I want to go is because George MacDonald is from there. George MacDonald was a Victorian author who basically invented Fantasy as we know it. He was also a brilliant theologian. His wisdom and imagination has captured my heart. He consistently stirs up the most noble, good, pure and honorable in me. And so I want to go to the place he so lovingly describes in his books. Simply put, I want to experience Scotland because I love George MacDonald and he loves it. No other reason.

Likewise, Jesus is enough reason to go to these Old Testament stories. Simply put, I also want to experience the story of the people of God because I love Jesus and he loved these stories. When I read these stories, it is a pilgrimage into the territory of Jesus’ family. It is a sojourn with my ancestors because Jesus is my oldest brother. He is the first born of the New Creation. His faithfulness makes my adoption into the People of Israel possible (Romans 8). Go with Jesus, for Jesus and by Jesus’ power.

Approach them as stories and don’t leave yourself out of the narrative.

Henri Nouwen on story:

“One of the remarkable qualities of the story is that it creates space. We can dwell in a story, walk around, find our own place. The story confronts but does not oppress; the story inspires but does not manipulate. The story invites us to an encounter, a dialog, a mutual sharing.

A story that guides is a story that opens a door and offers us space in which to search and boundaries to help us find what we seek, but it does not tell us what to do or how to do it. The story brings us into touch with the vision and so guides us. Wiesel writes, ‘God made man because he loves stories.’ As long as we have stories to tell to each other there is hope. As long as we can remind each other of the lives of men and women in whom the love of God becomes manifest, there is reason to move forward to new land in which new stories are hidden. ” — Henri Nouwen – The Living Reminder page 28

Unfortunately, much of 20th century biblical scholarship, especially what has made it into popular conversation, has been entirely too oppressive and manipulative. I don’t know why much of the church did this, but they boiled the Bible down to principles and simple morality plays designed to do exactly the opposite of what Nouwen describes as the quality of Story.

I’m guessing one of the big motivators was “Getting it Right.” As science began to tell a different story about the beginnings of humanity and the universe, battle lines were drawn. The Church got distracted by defending God’s honor, and then they ended up defending the heinous acts of the characters in these stories as if they were completely true in every regard.  They were completely true in their historicity, in their claims about God’s endorsement of human actions, and in their revelation of what is acceptable for individuals and nations. This approach lent itself to abuse of power and endorsement of violence which was contrary to the revelation of Jesus.

When we approach these books as story we can get out from under the manipulation and oppression and apply them to the realities we live in now. We see our politicians in the mistakes and triumphs of the kings of Israel. We see our family systems in the wounding nature present in all those lines of succession. We see wisdom and foolishness, success and failure, faithfulness and idolatry; and it all ought to seem so very familiar — in our personal lives and in our common life as communities, cities, states and nations.

“America [noun] is always going to America [verb]” my fellow Brethren in Christ Pastor, Hank Johnson, recently said to me and a group of Christian leaders from around the world.  I think we best see ourselves in these stories. Humans will also keep on humaning, unless, that is, the Human One, Jesus, gets ahold of us and makes New Creation. And, dear friends, that is exactly what he is doing. So we look for signs of life and love and wisdom in the darkness of our life with God — from the beginning all the way through to now.

Keep at It

So, plese, read the Bible. It won’t always be great. It will almost always be difficult in some way, especially this part of it. Sometimes when you are reading the Bible, heaven gets ripped open and you have some great epiphany, but most of the time it’s a slow and steady process. Doing it every day, or as often as you can, is key. The repetition of time spent with Jesus and maybe with his extended family, the people of Israel, in the Old Testament, slowly chips away at your heart.,

And God is not taking a pick axe to your heart. It’s more like a sherbert spoon — delicate and gentle because God is being careful with you. God’s going to dig every time you show up to the Bible, but it will take a lot longer for God to get to your core to gently transform you there where you are tender if you only show up for your digging once a week on Sundays or less.

It’s Great to Do This in Community

The fact that anyone wanted to have this dialogue with me at all was inspiring. One person came because she is reading the Bible cover to cover for the first time since they were in fourth grade. They were amazed at how much easier it is to read because of the hundreds of books she has read in the intervening couple decades. Another person shared a book recommendation: Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood, a history of how the nation state has used religion to consolidate power. Their super summary: “Her main point is that it is not all religion’s fault.” I added it to my book list — sounds fascinating. A third person came because their cell decided to come together and they were just along for the ride. lots of reasons to engage.

Further Resources

In Circle of Hope, we think that Bible reading is best done in community so we have a lot of homegrown resources on our wayofjesus.circleofhope.net site which is chock full of resources for spiritual journeying