Sometimes we think to ourselves, “I’ve already read most of it,” or “I know the stories well enough.” But that’s not the purpose in reading it.
When I was a little girl, I loved The Sound of Music. It usually aired once a year on one of the networks and eventually we were able to tape it so I could watch whenever I wanted! I measured my growth by which of the Von Trapp kids I was closest to in age. I knew all the songs, well, I knew the songs the kids sang. I thought that’s what the movie was about: kids who sing with their nanny!
As I got closer to Louisa’s age, I became aware of the romance between Liesl and Rolf. A few years later, suddenly there was a whole romance between Maria and the Captain. It probably wasn’t until I’d seen the movie a hundred times that I understood why the Nazis were around and the backdrop of the looming Anschluss.
I went through a season of mourning when I realized that the story wasn’t really true. Well, it’s true, but it’s not historically accurate. I’m happy that the captain wasn’t really such a jerk, but sad that Maria probably wasn’t so sweet. The kids all had different names and the chronology was way off.
Once I reconciled all of that, I was finally able to appreciate the story the writers and producers sought to tell. They had little interest in producing a biography, they wanted to change the world with their story. That’s what art seeks to do.
We will rarely fully appreciate the message an author is trying to teach on the first reading of a story. It takes many readings. It also takes us going back to a story at different points in our own lives, as our own life experiences have changed us, that we can pick up on nuances that were hidden from us before.
There are a lot of voices telling us what the Bible says today and how we’re supposed to respond. Maybe it’s time we read for ourselves what it actually says again.
First, this is not a “read the whole Bible” plan. This is going to be an overview, pulling out important moments in the story to get the big picture. I believe that too often, we focus on individual verses and lose sight of their context. This can lead us to debate relatively minor points of the overall story of God’s grace and mission, which can cause hurt feelings and broken relationships. There’s a lot going on in the Bible, but what is God trying to say to us through it?
Second, we need to be clear about the approach. This will not be a study where we treat the Bible as if it were handed down from heaven as a guide for how to live our lives; rather, as a collection of writings, written in varying forms, over about a thousand year timespan, by dozens of men who were inspired by God to write about their encounters or to write about the encounters others had with God, and through this collection, God can be revealed to us.
Third, we need to understand that we are not the first people to have ever read it, and it wasn’t written with us in mind. The men who wrote the texts spoke different languages from us; they lived in a different time in a wholly different culture. They were nothing like us. They couldn’t even imagine the world that we live in today. They were barely literate by our standards. They didn’t know that the earth is round or that it revolves around the sun. They didn’t know that when they looked up at the night sky, they were seeing light from distant galaxies that took millions of years to reach their eyes.
Most of them never saw (or heard of) a white person. English wasn’t even in its infancy. For most, their entire world fit between Egypt and modern-day Iraq; by the final writings, it had expanded to Spain, Ethiopia and “the East.”
All of this means that we have to work harder to understand what they were talking about. Ideally, we gather in community and discuss our thoughts and insights, so I would encourage you to find someone to do that with.