When I was confirmed in the Lutheran church, my parents gave me a lovely leather bound Thompson Chain-Reference, red-letter Bible. My name was embossed on the front cover and the pages were achingly thin and gilded with gold.
I read that Bible every day. I had a bookmark that I used so I could make sure that the many underlined passages were nice and straight. I wrote notes in the margins explaining why the underlined verses were important to me. I would read and I would pray and that cycle would continue.
I loved that Bible.
In those days, I loved THE Bible.
I read that Bible and I felt encouraged in my relationship with God. I found purpose for my life in its pages. I felt the love of God when I read it. Sometimes I would smile at what I read, sometimes I would cry. It was always personal – God speaking to me through ancient words and stories.
These days, I don’t read the Bible very often. I’ll search a passage that’s in my brain to make sure that I’m quoting it accurately for a blog post. I will look up a verse quoted by someone I disagree with to check for the context. But I seldom read just because I want to.
I’ve been thinking about why that is. What happened to the 13 year old who poured over the Bible that turned her into the 41 year old who rarely cracks open her YouVersion Bible app? Why did the Bible speak so clearly to one version of me, and is now primarily a source of irritation?
There are plenty of reasons. Doubt. Disillusionment. Grief.
But all of the reasons I could list really come down to one. The Bible stopped being a book I could read to learn about my relationship with God and became a book I had to read to make sure my relationship with God was happening the right way.
I’ve never been a big fan of reading textbooks and so often, that’s how the Bible is treated. Worried about money? Read this verse! Grieving over the death of a loved one? Ponder that verse! Struggling in your marriage? Memorize this passage! Wondering what love really looks like? Turn to these verses! Life is an open-book test and you’re expected to pass with the help of specific passages. If they don’t help? Well, clearly you’re reading it wrong.
The Bible is supposed to be inerrant. But more than that, we have received the message that there is an inerrant way to read this inerrant book. Whatever your view, you are obligated to have a chapter and verse ready to back it up. We shoot our pet verses like little arrows, using them to damage the other person’s argument, and often, the other person. We have pissing contests to see who knows the most verses about a topic and pick winners based on the ability to crush arguments by quoting the most King James.
All of the encouragement and hope and beauty that I found in the stories in the pages of my old Bible gets lost in the shouting matches about who has the most Biblical View. You don’t read to see God, you read to see how God supports your view.
Why I’m supposed to read the Bible is exactly why I don’t want to read the Bible.
But what if I started reading it like I do any other book? Look for the ways that it speaks to me, not the way that it answers specific questions. Read it to see how the stories lead and correct and encourage me, without any kind of holy agenda attached to it.
By treating the Bible as the place to find all of the answers, we have taken away its power to lead us to ask deeper questions. By using the Bible as a weapon, we have weakened its ability to heal. By making the Bible holy, we have stripped away what makes it sacred.
The old song goes:
Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
It will take some doing to let the Bible be the one to tell me so again, but I believe that’s a worthy pursuit.