In the summer of 2014, I began hearing about a program at Easter Lutheran Church called “Bible in a Year.” The challenge was to read the bible, cover-to-cover, over the course of a year, beginning on Oct. 1, 2014. Outside of the obvious biblical stories, history, and facts I learned, there are a few things I would like to share from the experience:
1. The Old Testament is a lot longer than I realized. Have you ever counted the pages in the bible–with all that fine print? Tried to read the Old Testament straight through? After the first month or two I found myself positively hungering for Jesus (as did many of us!). The benefits of reading the Old Testament, however, are many. For one thing, I came to understand ancient Middle-Eastern history/culture a little bit better—and that also helped me understand the situations surrounding the life and times of Jesus and his followers.
2. The image of God in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is much more varied than I previously thought. It’s a stereotype to say that God of the Old Testament is warring, vindictive, arbitrary, wrathful, and harsh god. Yes, we can find lots of OT stories in which God might seem this way. But the Hebrew Scriptures also the describe God as ever-faithful to us, as “slow to anger and rich in mercy,” the God who delivers people from slavery, gives them fertile land, identifies wise leaders, offers them a better way of living, desires justice and mercy more than sacrificial offerings.
3. We are a community of believers. I am not as self-sufficient and self-disciplined as I think I am. I wanted to quit a million times and often was lazy about doing this devotional reading. It was the others in the group who kept me going. Although we mostly communicated via Facebook (with the occasional meeting), it was the strength of knowing other people were doing this—and, like me, struggling along at times with certain readings—that kept me going.
4. Deepening my understanding of the role of the bible in my life. Christians have various ways of describing the bible’s importance (“sacred text,” “inspired,” “Word of God,” “inerrant,” or “inerrant in the original language”). Reading the bible forced me to ask myself: What do I personally believe about the bible? What place does the bible hold in my own view of reality and Christian faith? How will I use the biblical teachings in my daily life? I found myself thinking that we worship God, and we hold the bible in high esteem because it reveals something of who this God is.
5. It’s so easy to quote favorite verses and ignore the Scripture passages that challenge us. Having favorite verses can be a way to truly feed our souls and guide our lives, but what I’m talking about here is the way some people in our culture use bible verses as a weapon to sling mud and condemnation on other people. In the morning, I would read about Jesus being full of mercy, kindness, healing power, and compassion—but then I would turn on the news and hear about people promoting the opposite values while purporting to follow Christ. I don’t know what to think about this—and I haven’t any answers. I’m just saying: I don’t get it.
6. For Christians, the gospels are the four “aces” in the deck. Do you remember the old bibles that had the words of Jesus printed in red? My thought is that although all parts of the bible are important, Christians actually worship Jesus Christ—and that gives the gospels special priority. It’s why Christian lectionaries have a gospel reading assigned every Sunday. It’s also why many mainline Christians stand when the gospel is read on Sunday, out of special respect (humans stand when kings, judges, or leaders enter the room, and we stand when excited during a rock concert). The gospel deserves special attention from Christ-followers.
7. We are never done pondering the mysteries of God and the wonder of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Reading the bible in a year was like a quick plane trip, flying around the entire globe in less than 24 hours. Once done, there are so many more places to land and explore in greater depth, and I plan to go back and do just that. As one person in the group pointed out, reading a bible passage leads one to specific questions and once those questions are answered, that leads to still more questions. One is never done pondering the wonders, compassion, creativity, and mercy of God.
What do you believe about the bible? How does the bible fit into your own faith journey? Do you have a biblical story or passage that has special meaning for your life? How so?
Easter Lutheran member Julie McCarty is a writer, spiritual director, and budding artist who is the volunteer coordinator of Easter Prays / Easter Praise! blog. She also offers spiritual reflections at Spiritual Drawing Board blog and on Facebook’s Spiritual Drawing Board page.