I am reading a book right now about faith practices, and it is making me think about my faith practices. The book is about deepening faith commitment, and it makes the case for 'stepping up' with greater resolve in several areas of our lives, including, prayer, Bible reading, worship and witness.
But even though I believe in deepening our faith commitments, and even though I think it is positive to resolve to spend more time in the prayer, Bible reading, worship and witness, I do, on occasion, find myself talking back to this book.
Take, for example, reading the Bible. I am all for reading the Bible more often, just as the the author of this book commends. There is a wonderful opening story in this book about a successful mountain climber who happens to be blind. He is successful because he has learn to listen.
So, listening. Reading the Bible is listening to God. So far, so good.
But, when we listen to the Bible, what do we hear? What do we expect to hear? That's my question.
The writer of the book sounds as if he believes that by reading the Bible, he will find wisdom to help him live a Better Life. He will find commandments to obey, he will find Good Advice. And it's true, he will find these things. He can read the Ten Commandments and the Book of Proverbs and James, and find what he is looking for.
But I have to say: that's not the main reason that I read the Bible.
Why read the Bible? I mean, really: it's a huge book with small print, and many kinds of writing. There are stories and laws and advice and genealogies. There is history and there is prophecy. Some of it is exciting and some of it is puzzling and some of it is downright troubling, if you are honest. Reading the Bible is all kinds of comforting sometimes, but it also opens you up to all kinds of questions.
I have heard the Bible in church since I was a little girl. I also learned wonderful stories in Sunday School: David and Goliath, Abraham and Sarah, Noah's ark. I learned how Jesus fed 5,000 people, how Moses led the people out of slavery, how Jesus healed those who were blind or deaf or lame. I heard the stories of the prodigal son and the good shepherd.
The first time I tried to read the Bible without help, I was in high school. Church camp had made of me an enthusiastic believer, so I cracked open my Bible and resolved to read the whole thing, starting with Genesis. By the middle of Leviticus I had given up, disappointed in myself.
Why read the Bible? It's a huge book with small print, and if you are honest at all, it is going to raise as many questions as it answers. You are going to find out about the Walls of Jericho, and how they came tumbling down, but you are also going to find out about how the armies went in and killed every single person after that. You are going to learn about how Jesus fed 5,000 people, but somewhere along the line you might wonder about all of the people who are hungry now. You are going to hear words like: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son," (John 3:16), and you are going to hear words like "Love your enemy, and do good to those who persecute you."
Why read the Bible? Why listen to these words, these stories, even this advice?
It's not a self-improvement project, at least not for me.
The Bible is this great big book, and it's about God, and it's about us. It's about a God so in love with us, God's people, that he is willing to do anything -- including, in the end, to come and be among us.
Inside the Word, this complicated, messy, confusing book -- is the Word, Jesus. The heart of God. The one who tells us who we are.