Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Faith for the Fainthearted - That Big 'Ol Book

One of the most common things I hear from people when I talk to them about the Bible is the line 'Yes, I tried to read the Bible. I started at Genesis and gave up somewhere amongst the laws about mildew in Leviticus'. A part of me always wants to bang my head on the table at this point and say 'Well of course you gave up, who wouldn't!' and then press a reading plan into the their hand which skips all the mildew bits for now and gets straight to all the cool bits like King David, the prophets and all the amazingly smart things Jesus said.

The Bible is certainly not an easy thing to just dive into, and even less so to just open up and begin reading. Because it is less a single book and more a collection of books. It is like a library held deceptively between two covers. And more than that the books of the Bible span millennia in terms of the time they were written and the events that they tell us about. More than that each of these little books in the library is slightly different.

There are different genres to be found: history books, law books, poetry books, philosophy and biography. To name but a few, the books are influenced by contact with ancient Egypt, ancient Greek philosophy, Roman occupation, experience of exile, rural living in the Middle East and life in the court of the King. No wonder that getting to grips with something like this is somewhat more of a challenge than picking up your average book.
But it is also this scope and breadth that makes the Bible so interesting for me. It is fascinating to see how different people in ages well before you own have viewed the world. To see what it is that they have considered to be good or inspiring and compare it to your own time and your own beliefs and values.
For me, this is what the Bible is, an account of people's dealings with God down the ages which, though written in many different human voices, has something of a golden thread running through it. There emerges through these different writers a growing sense about who and what God might be and that is fascinating to watch unfold.
I don't believe that everything anyone has ever said that has now been recorded in the Bible is a record of what God wants or approves of. Reading the Bible isn't an exercise in blind acceptance of the absurd or what is plainly wrong like the Old Testament land grabs in the name of God. The Bible is an evolving account of a nations quest to understand and make sense of God. Sometimes they reach glorious heights and sometimes dismal lows. It is a book that is at times so plainly human and at other times so intriguingly divine.
But this shouldn't surprise us really as the Bible in many ways offers an internal critique of itself. One set of ideas is presented and then another writer comes along who says 'Well, that is all very well but what about this?' or who challenges some of the underlying assumptions of generations gone past. Jesus does this A LOT. When he talks about parts of the Old Testament he says 'You have heard it said, but I tell you...' He is evaluating, critiquing and reframing the teaching of the Old Testament for his day.
So I suppose what I am saying in a rather long winded way is not to be afraid of the Bible, to see it as something to tussle with and question as well as learn from and be inspired by. There is a lot to be inspired by. I believe that there is a vision for humanity in those pages that I have never seen bettered anywhere else.
I am constantly drawing from the Bible for a huge range of aspect of my life. It is a treasury of hard won wisdom of generations before us. Tussle with it, I say because, that for me has been the a path which uncovers riches in this amazing text that you might never have imagined you would find.

Want to get started?
If you fancy starting out with the Bible then one book I would really recommend is The Book of God by Walter Wangerin. It is basically a novel of the Bible which helps to put all of the details of the books of the Bible in the order in which they happened and make some sense of the historical context. I'd read it with a Bible next to you to read stories that interest you for yourself but having this framework might just be the start of some interesting explorations.
This is the second post in the Faith for the Fainthearted series, see the other posts here.


  1. I've just been to Amazon to take a look at that book.

    :O) x

    1. Brill, yeah I love it when I read it and keep meaning to read it again. It is an interpretation obviously but I enjoyed it and it put what is otherwise a whole load of unconnected stuff together in a way that makes sense!