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.”


I Sold My Soul to Work: A response to Blackhawk’s sermon “Success”

One of the strongest messages I received from my father was don’t be a slackerFairly regularly he communicated to me that he was fearful that I just might be one.  It was subtle, but I got the message that I needed to work harder. He was always pushing.

He was very driven.  I thought being driven was a positive quality growing up.  And Dad’s motives were good I believe.  Dad and Mom were doing the Lord’s work and how could we not give the Lord 120%?  I suppose that is why I was so afraid to quit my job to stay home with my children.  I was afraid that deep down I was the slacker he saw in me.  What would happen to me if I didn’t have fear of failure, or good-natured competition, or general-freaking-out-all-the-time-to-get-things-done pushing me? For those were the things motivating me at the time.

As I sought God’s direction for my life in the decision to stay or leave InterVarsity, I had no idea how much I needed to learn.  And that began a decade long journey.  Ironically, this simple message was taught on Sunday at church about the idol of Success.  I sat there wishing that I had heard the sermon fifteen years ago, perhaps it would have saved me a lot of grief.  But truthfully I likely would not have “heard” it.  I needed to go through what I did, to learn a difficult lesson.  I hope the younger people listening yesterday can learn this earth shattering lesson without living it out painfully like I did.

I grew up believing that I WAS what I accomplished.  My worth was in what I could DO.   I don’t think my parents knew they were teaching me that, but I got the message that the harder you worked, the better you could and should feel about your contribution.  The more degrees you got, the better you could feel about your brilliance.  The more areas of responsibility you were given, obviously, the more of a Star you were and the more respect and affirmation I received from Dad.  I sat at the master’s feet, my father, who was a doer.  He was an extremely talented, hard-working person that motivated others to do great things.   He was always coming up with new ideas.  He was generally a big shot in the mission world, quite important and well-respected.   I learned my ideas about work from him.

I went to work for my father soon out of college mostly because I wanted him to like me.  When he gave me my first promotion I heard angels singing and the sun came out a little brighter.  I had finally arrived in his good graces.  And then I quickly became scared to death, because even though I knew what was expected of me – DO NOT FAIL – I didn’t believe I was capable, or talented, or smart enough.

That began my decade of perfecting the life of a workaholic.  I would not fail, because I worked longer and harder than everyone around me.  (This is what I thought at the time anyway.  There were many workaholics at my side as well as balanced people who worked smarter than I did.)

I sold my soul to the god of success.  The truth was more painful.  My identity was completely wrapped up in what I did and accomplished.  Tim Mackie said on Sunday, “Our culture worships at the altar of success and achievement.”  And how!  He also said, “A counterfeit god is anything that is so central to your life that should you lose it your life would not be worth living.”

That was my job.   I completely lost my way.  I lost my faith, kneeling at the idols of work, perfectionism, achievement and power.  I was ironically doing many good things for all wrong reasons.  Every day at work I attempted to prove to everyone, but especially my dad, but also the doubters and haters who (quite rightly) worried about Dad hiring two of his children for major roles in the Urbana convention.   Every day I thought I had to prove that I was good enough and deserved to have my job.  Deeply insecure, I didn’t know my value as a child of Yahweh. I finally burned out and then I quit—mostly out of a need to get away from all that, from the person that I had become, who I didn’t like at all—to be at home with my children.  I had three under the age of four and a pre-teen step daughter.

Right about now you are thinking, those poor kids.  Yeah, in some ways it is true that you could feel sorry for them but the lessons God taught me have made me who I am today and I wouldn’t trade them even knowing my children had to live with me through several struggles with major depression and my alcoholism.

This breakdown of Ecclesiastes 4 was so beautiful in its simplicity.

Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.  Fools fold their hands and consume their own flesh.  Better is a handful of quietness than two handfuls of toil and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 4:5-6)

The same word hand in English means three different things in Hebrew. (And people wonder why we don’t trust the translators?)  Hand is used three times here to mean three different things.

  • “Folding your hand (yad)” in Hebrew is forearm, visualize folding your arms on your chest.  That is the slacker or lazy person I spoke of. The person taking it easy dishonors themselves and God, and is a fool.  It is good to use your time and talents to honor the Lord.
  •  “A handful (kaph)” is a word that helps you visualizes an open hand, palm up.
  • “Rather than two handfuls (khophen).”  This  is grabbing a fistful of something.

When I worked, I was grabbing for everything—the next project, the next department.  I was constantly dwelling on what I didn’t have and could not appreciate the honor and responsibility of what was before me.  I couldn’t enjoy my own successes.  I trampled on people in my department blindly so that I could grab at more responsibility and power.  I was never satisfied with my own work.  I was never content with my accomplishments.  I look back now, ashamed.  I was too young and more importantly without the spiritual maturity to know what I was doing.  Being raised to believe that I was what I accomplished, well, I was doomed — destined to fail.

The open hands of tranquility!  Even now, there are still areas where I push myself out of insecurity and fear and out of a desire to “be somebody.”  And a big one for me is being a feminist.  Let me explain.  I fret continuously about the lack of power and influence that women have – not only in the Church, but that is a large part of what I think about.  The role of women and being a feminist has been  at times an idol in my life in that I have made it the ultimate thing.  I am afraid of personally giving up whatever bit of power or influence i have as a women and think about this for all women in the Church.  I am afraid of women being perceived as lightweights, that men (who already have power) might think we take up needless space in the universe and really only have one significant purpose.  I know!  I have been totally two-fisted toward God about this, distrusting the leadership of the church as well as individuals I interact with on this subject. 

I come to my role as a feminist woman in the evangelical church often suspicious, fearful and distrusting.  I have not been tranquil or at peace about this for a long time.  And here’s an earth shattering realization for me.  I feel like I am letting “womankind” down by being a stay-at-home mom.  As if somehow I should have a career that shows that women can make money, contribute ideas, and make a significant difference in the world just as well as men, and I should be doing that for womankind.  I know how silly and pathetic that sounds.  I care so much more about my own reputation as a woman and I deeply care what others think of me still.  I worry that I am not doing enough or not proving my worth with my choice to be at home.

This remains unresolved in my and all I can do today is admit it, confess it and pray that I can do this work that God has put before me from a place of trust that my life is a gift from God. I must trust that He gave me my mind and heart; he gave me the things that make my heart ache or my soul sing.  All these are from Yahweh!   Pray for the peace found in doing the things He put before me – in raising my children which is profoundly challenging, daunting, and an incredible honor.   I want to approach motherhood openhandedly while bringing my screwed up, sinful, dysfunctional ideas about my value to the Cross every day.  I want to breathe in the peace of knowing I am beloved and that I am forgiven for those years of fretting and striving for significance and meaning in things that would never satisfy.  I am forgiven for the years of trying to earn my earthly father’s and Yahweh’s love.   My task is to wake up every day remembering that I have nothing to prove — not to my father, not to myself, not to men or women, not to anyone.

Melody

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Here is a poem I wrote in response to last week’s sermon, about the greatest of idols self-identity – allowing our meaning and purpose to come from anything but Yahweh.   The sermon  kicked off a series titled American Idols.  The premise is that anything in your life, even a good thing, that becomes more important than God is an idol.  In an age of psychology and self-healing, through medicines and talk therapy, self-worth can all too quickly become an idol.  For me, the journey of finding my way back to faith and belief was so huge in my development of a healthy identity.  Still, many days, as I search, as I long for, need, wander, hope and fear — the process becomes an idol.  The process becomes this thing that distracts me from who God is, what it means to be his beloved child, and the few things that he calls me to each day.

Here is what I wrote the week before in response to the sermon Stop.

These are a series I am writing called: Be Real.  One of the ways I’m going to do that– be real — is by writing a response to the sermons I hear at my church, Blackhawk. These responses are not from the church, just my reflections.  I am always challenged by teachers at Blackhawk, sometimes profoundly, but I don’t — to be honest — always take the time needed to apply them to my life. But, if life is too busy to apply what you’re learning about your faith and if you don’t change and grow, what’s the point? So here goes.  Many people are busier than I, including my husband, and I just hope that this helps reinforce in some small way what God was already saying to you.

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I searched hard for an image from Urbana 96 or Urbana 2000 because those are the events that I did the promotion for, but the website seems to be stripped of the historic images. The image above was taken after I left.  I suppose I should say for the record that I by no means failed at filling the Urbana conventions that I worked on.  They were both more than full, bursting.  If that is what you are measuring as success.

Just thinking … about agape.

I’ve thought a lot recently about the last decade.

How quickly it evaporated.  If you mark your life by major transitions a big one was in 2001 when I quit full-time work at InterVarsity.  In the years since I have grown up — as in separated from my parents emotionally and allowed myself to grow up, mature, and even move ahead of where they were at my age.  It was harder than you think.  I have also fallen in love with Jesus, as never before and accepted the Grace offered to me freely. I pray for better understanding!  I have begun to ponder life’s greatest purposes for people and more specifically me.  And, I have found an emotional equilibrium of sorts — became a drunk & got sober.  All this in a decade.  Phew!

I can’t help but wonder — What will the next decade hold?

Sunday, we heard teaching on agape which is a different kind of love than the other three: eros, storge and philios.   Agape is completely motivated in one direction.

I struggle with love.  Not loving others, that comes easily for me.  Even the kind that goes only in one direction.  And I want to be the sort of person that doesn’t need to have something in return.  But the example I grew up with made it difficult for me to believe others really love me. I’m afraid that my parent’s example was always doubting others’ love and rarely trusting anyone.

I didn’t learn that people can be counted on.  My family legacy is one of anger and record keeping.  I am breaking that cycle but I still don’t really believe that I am lovable.  My Doc says if I would just “find confidence within myself” I wouldn’t need him any more.  “The root of all my problems” is my lack of confidence.  (Of course he also tells me not to take the things he says out of context, which I have completely done here.)

But I do think — have thought for some time — that if people (if I) could learn to love others in this way — agape — we (I) would be ultimately content.  And happy.

Where I get into trouble is my need.  What do you DO WITH THE NEED?

I do honestly help others simply out of a wish to be helpful.  These pears I dutifully checked for ripeness daily for three weeks for my neighbors, not out of a desire for anything but just to be helpful as they traveled.  Stuff like that comes easily.  But often, I know I am longing for people to love me. I am not motivated by it but it is there and can’t be ignored.  Or maybe I’m just a nice person.  Perhaps it doesn’t really matter that our motives are pure?  If you believe 1 Corinthians then I think it does.

On the other hand, if I expect nothing in return because I don’t feel lovable that is not agape either.  That’s something I don’t have a name for but my prayer is to stop that!

I want to become a person who is fully living out agape.  Mother Theresa was someone whose life exemplified agape. Henri Nouwen.  Many others.  How do we become more like them in their loving others?  I guess I’m gonna have to read C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves.  If this agape is something that is really important, as important as it seems to be, then I need to understand it more fully.

Just thinking.

If this got you thinking, my church is doing a series on all of this and you can watch or listen online.  Or, you’re welcome to come along with me some time.  I can’t promise that they have all the answers but they do make you think.  And obviously I don’t either but the journey is fun!

Be well,

Melody

Intense love does not measure, it just gives.   — Mother Teresa