Why I am Afraid to Read the (entire) Bible

Here’s the honest and mortifying truth.

I have never read the entire Bible, whole.  I have studied various books at length, sometimes on my own but more often with a group of others.  But I have never opened the whole of the great book of God’s WORD, Old and New Testaments, and soaked it in as a grand story.  Of course, any “sheep” knows, don’t they, that the Bible wasn’t written to us but for us.  The Bible is not a handbook of do’s and don’ts, but rather a beautiful story which we can carefully apply to our lives.  And if we fear what it says, if we are unwilling to challenge and question it, we deserve to be ignorant fools (like I have been.)

I have never put my full attention, put my full brain, toward the Bible.  I have been afraid of reading the entire thing and these are my reasons.

I am afraid of my own ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know.  If I don’t know then I can continue stumbling in the darkness.  At least it is a familiar place, my ignorance.  Sounds dumb when you actually write it down.  But how many of us do this in the Church?  Far too many.

I am afraid of what the Bible actually says.  For too long I have simply listened to others and accepted what the “experts” say about spiritual things without really challenging any of it.

I am a frequently boiling pot, kept simmering by the cool head of Tom, my husband.1 He often keeps me from boiling over.  It seems that he will be doing this a lot as we began reading the entire Bible in one year – a challenge from our church they are calling: Eat This Book.

So I would add another point to my list of reasons that I have never the read the Bible in its entirety.

I am afraid of how I will respond to the Bible as a woman.  We all have a worldviews and as such, we read the Bible differently. I respond as a woman.  How can I not?  And that is different from my pastors (both male) and my husband, and most of the commentary I am reading.  As a woman I have different questions.  I am afraid of what  to do with those.  How do I sort out how much of my response needs to be talked about, questioned, and challenged?

On the other hand there is a lot that excites me about finally reading the entire Bible.

I look forward to diving in.  Already Genesis has perplexed me, made me extremely angry, and left me with more questions than answers when I look at it story by story.  I want to be able to see the big picture — to soar over the parts that jump out to me as problematic and see God and hear God, asking him what he wants me to focus on.   I look forward to how this Grand Story changes my life. 

Just last week, my pastor was preaching on Gen 1-3.  He was explaining a very important idea about how we look at scripture overall, which I mentioned already, that the Bible is not written to us but for us and that much of it is metaphor and poetry.

But then he highlighted the verses about man and woman becoming one.  Now I’ll acknowledge that it is beautiful, the whole picture of marriage.  But I actually thought it would have been more important (coming from my worldview, as a woman) or at least more valuable to women, if he had taught about how we are both, male and female created in God’s image.  To emphasize and thus explain what the Hebrew word ezer  (helper) actually means. These verses being misunderstood have diminished and hurt women.  He thought the other verses were more important.  We disagreed nicely by email.

I have to admit that how we interacted mattered a great deal to me and I’m learning that this is more important to me than me being right.   I shared my thoughts with him and he heard me.  I felt heard.  And this is a form of giving someone respect.

And so I would add another point to my list of reasons why I haven’t read the Bible it it’s entirely.

I am afraid of the disagreements among Christians.  I hate the way that Christians wrangle with one another over the baggage that goes into “being theological.”  Are you on the Left or are you on the Right?  Are you conservative or liberal?  Are you a feminist?  Egalitarian or a Complementaran?  A new Creationist or …. ?  I don’t even know all the camps of disagreement and I don’t want to.

I just want to read the Bible and get a little help along the way.

If you haven’t  yet, I’d encourage you to read The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight, which will help you rethink how you read the Bible.  Other resources I am finding helpful are the NIV Compact Bible Commentary and the Women’s Bible Commentary.  

The important truth is that I cannot allow my fear of my own ignorance, my fear of this faith tradition that I have followed my whole life, or my fear of disagreement keep me from the next step in my faith journey.

Being that I can be hot-headed, I just might say or do something stupid along the way.  And I would hate that but I cannot allow it to keep me silent.

A friend said to me  this week:  “I am praying that Jesus would guide you as you study His word.   May we always be in search for bringing glory to Him!”  Amen!  I suspect that I will be sharing more of this as I go along.

I wonder, have you read the entire Bible and if not, ask yourself what are you afraid of?    If we seek to follow Christ we are to live in the Bible today and every day.   The question is how?  Let us join together in our KNOWLEDGE not our ignorance.  Let us be SEEKERS together.  

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians were known for their knowledge, agreeableness and love?

“Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant me so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that I may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reign with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen”  But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.

Jesus, according to John 16:13

Melody

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1 Tom and I have an egalitarian or mutually submissive marriage. And I was challenged by Rachel Held Evans (she does this a lot) this week .  She asked the question of whether more people need to talk about the ways of egalitarian marriages, to give others an idea of what it’s like.  I never talk about mine.  It’s precious to me and I’d not want to ugly it by my bumbling attempts to describe it.  But I’ll be thinking about that and try to weave things into my blog as appropriate.

2 Blackhawk’s pastors have given us a challenge.  “By reading the Bible every day, our hope is that we’ll become a people who are shaped by the Scriptures – people who are marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  And they are taking it a step further by providing mini videos and teaching tools.  It’s quite good.   I am grateful to attend a church that doesn’t spoon feed, that helps the “sheep” figure some of these things out for ourselves, but also provide solid ways to learn.

The things to look for in reading Genesis are:

  1. The main plotline in the book: God’s desire to bless humanity consistently meets human stubbornness and sin, keeping a record of the words for “bless, blessing” as you read: God wants to pass on a blessing, but humans constantly thwart that blessing.
  2. Genesis 12, 15, 17 and the covenant with Abraham are the key to understanding the entire Bible: God is going to rescue the world from sin and corruption and restore blessing through his promises to Abraham.  The rest of the biblical story will focus on God’s relationship with Israel, because these are the people who bear the promise for the whole world.  Keep track of how the promises to Abraham keep getting repeated and passed on to the next generation and God works out his plan.
  3. Find your story in the characters: All of the characters in Genesis struggle with God, and we are meant to find our story in theirs: the characters wrestle with their own sin and failure, doubt and faith, selfishness and generosity as they try to follow God.  Use each character’s experience (for example, Adam and Eve’s temptation, Abraham’s struggle with doubt, Jacob’s journey from selfishness to trust in God) to find parallels with your own journey with God.
  4. God’s faithfulness: notice how many times God rescues people, or stays committed to blessing humanity. Allow Genesis to reshape your ideas of what it means for God to be faithful to you.

 

3 “Helper”- ezer.  Gen 2:18   According to R. David Freedman, the Hebrew word used to describe woman’s help (ezer) arises from two Hebrew roots that mean “to rescue, to save,” and “to be strong” (Archaeology Review (9 [1983]: 56–58). Ezer is found twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Of these references, fourteen are used for God and four for military rescue. Psalm 121:1–2 is an example of ezer used for God’s rescue of Israel: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”


No, Not Seven.

“… forgive, from your heart.” Matthew 18:35

So often, when I think of my parents, I know that I need to forgive.

Truth be told I am afraid, even though I know that letting go of the past is the only way to move forward.  But I fear the unknown of living looking forwarda life of trusting, giving, loving, even hoping.  You see, most of the residual anger, I think, is simply a sense of disbelief that a mother and father could do that.

To say that we lived in constant fear is an unfair exaggeration.  But we were scared all the time (of my Father.)  What did Mother do, you may wonder?  What is she doing now?  My mother detached. And continues to be isolated and aloof from me eight years after my Father’s death. And though she “loved us very much” she let him rage on, and on. And he still has the power, even in death.

She let him rage on and became a passive perpetrator of his crimes.  And to a child growing up in his home, my Father was highly irrational, often cruel, hopelessly aggressive, and in a constant state of potential irritation; to the point that when I was in my early twenties and head over heals in love I found myself saying of the boy in question: “Treat me well. Or treat me poorly. I don’t care. Just be consistent.”

It is far too easy to wander from the point which is my inability to forgive. 

Perhaps it is because I cannot fully embrace the forgiveness I have received–just when I think that I do get it. Do I fully appreciate the mercy and grace in my life — there is no way that I can say I do — with lack of forgiveness in my heart.

I face my lack daily. But even amidst the doubt, questions and distrust (of God and people) I must remember that I am forgiven and because of that I want to know Jesus more. Jesus says, forgive as you have been forgiven.

In the movie Helen of Troy, Agamemnon the commander of the Greeks killed his own daughter to appease the gods.  My step-daughter who is agnostic and I were discussing sacrificing your life for another. Abraham was asked to sacrifice his child. Jesus.  Questioningly, she said, “Doesn’t it take away from what Jesus did that he knew he would end up in heaven with God?”  How revealing that statement is.

Would you give up your life for another even if you knew it would end well?  Would you forgive?  In the parable of the unmerciful servant in Mt 18, Jesus challenges this very thing that I am understanding about myself–my inability to forgive and give up my “rights,” the power of my anger toward my parents and Jesus says, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven…” (Matthew 18)

Henri Nouwen reminds us that Jesus’ primary concern was obedience to his Father, to live constantly in his presence.  “Only then did it become clear to him what his task was in his relationships with people.” 

It is clear to me.  I need to seek to forgive.  I may not know how, but I know that I must move toward it by seeking the presence of God.

And a life of

trust, love and even hope will come.