By Bob Just
I've been a writer for many years, working on all kinds of projects from screenplays to corporate speeches to playwriting to academic essays to journalism and commentary. As a former English teacher, I've read all kinds of writing but never anything that comes even close to the Bible. In fact, as I will explain from a writer's perspective, the Bible is not possible. And yet, ironically, this amazing book is taken for granted.
Most Americans have at least one Bible in their home. Most don't read it, or don't read it very much. In all likelihood that means you, or someone you know. Strangely, polls have shown that a huge percentage of Americans believe the Bible is the word of God but don't have time to read it. No kidding. Either we must think God has nothing to say to us, or something else is going on.
First off, be assured I am not going to ask you to become a Bible scholar. I am not going to ask you to take umpteen Bible study classes, or memorize chapter and verse. All of those are good things – but they're not for everyone. Most of us need a simpler approach.
The Bible is about relationship. It's about you (with all your discouraging flaws) – and about God (who seeks to encourage you). We should go to the Bible as we go to an old friend, or to a loving parent. But that's not reality for most people.
Let's face it: That "big thick book" intimidates us. We act like it's a school book and we're going to be tested on everything we read – as if being "saved" meant being a "scholar." Our fear of fears is that if we don't understand the Bible, then there's something deeply, spiritually wrong with us – maybe even that God doesn't love us, but saves His love for the learned. Yet, the opposite is true. Jesus thanks His Father for making the Faith for regular people.
Ironically, considering all our fears, this ancient spiritual manuscript called the Bible is not some high-toned, intellectual textbook, but rather a storybook full of very human adventures, full of heroes as well as people who continually make a mess of things – and often the two together! It's actually fun to read once you get past your Bible trauma. Here's the key:
Don't worry if the Bible is hard to understand. What you need for now will be there for you and will be understandable. Don't expect some big revelation though. It may be only some small insight or oddly interesting bit of history. But on some level, it will feed your desire to relate to God. After all, it is His-story. Eventually, you'll want to know more. So let me repeat this essential point: Don't worry about what you don't understand. If you read 10 verses and understand only one – you win! A little goes a long, long way.
Ultimately, the Bible is amazing because truth is amazing. The Bible is not only adventurous; it's also touching, meaningful, instructive, ironic, sarcastic, humorous, gentle and stern – and ultimately both spiritual and human at the same time. It is also strangely modern despite its ancient text.
The Bible has been called God's love letter to us, and yet, the majority of Americans don't read it. If this is true for you, consider the following. The Bible could become something entirely different for you – something that can change your life in the most wonderful ways.
The impossible Bible
The main thing you really need to know is that the Bible is a "living thing" with an ability to relate to you personally – on the basis of your current needs. Simply put, the Bible is a miracle. I am not exaggerating. Let me prove it to you.
The first question a professional writer asks when given an assignment is, "Who am I talking to?" It is the key to getting started. In fact, you can't get started if you do not know the answer to that one simple question. Unless you know who your reader is going to be you can hardly know how to approach your assignment.
If an editor tells me to write an article about love, that's clear enough as far as the general subject, but the assignment changes completely depending on the reader. If I know I am writing to teenagers or if I am writing to middle aged married couples, my writing style changes – and so does my content. The less you know who your audience is, the more difficult the assignment. You can't even be sure how to choose your words properly. Are you writing to highly educated people or are you writing to someone with an eighth-grade education? Or how about the references you make in writing? Are you writing to city or country folk? Sound difficult? Believe me, it is. Well, let's make it harder.
Now imagine this editor tells you he wants you to write about love in a way that works not only for Americans but works even when translated for people of other countries. You're thinking Europe with its Judeo-Christian roots, but your editor is more ambitious. He wants your article to work in all foreign lands, wherever he can sell it. Consider the difficulty of this: Asian cultures, African cultures, Islamic cultures, Buddhist cultures, Hindu cultures – and regional cultures within those cultures must also be considered. You must write for them all – and write effectively!
Impossible you say?
Fine, but your editor is not moved by your objections. He has other demands. Not only should everyone in today's world understand your book (he's decided it should be a book), he also wants you to write something that will be relevant a hundred years from now. In fact, he really wants something timeless, but even he knows that's impossible. Can you even imagine what American culture will be like in 100 years? How about 1,000 years from now? Now imagine writing for people living many thousands of years from now, and it will give you a little idea of why I tell people that from a writer's perspective the Bible can't be written in any normal human way. Nor can it be read "normally."
It is truly a miraculous document.
Consider that the Bible was written for all people, of all backgrounds, of all education levels. It was written for all races, colors, creeds and cultures. It was written for people thousands of years ago and for people who will live many years into the future.
But even more!
It is also written for you as you are now, as you were when you were a teenager, and as you'll be when you are old. It's written for all the personalities of all the billions of people in all of existence. God wouldn't leave anyone out, would he?
The Bible is amazing, and all the more so because it was written over the course of about 1,500 years – by many different people. This is not the work of a single human being with a single personality and vision. The Bible has at least 40 different authors, from all different backgrounds and walks of life – and they write in three different languages. There are almost 40 books in the Old Testament and almost 30 in the New Testament. And yet, the result is a singular Holy book, tried and true, tested by millions of readers over thousands of years. This is a book capable of befriending anyone at anytime with just the right wisdom for our needs. As I said, the Bible isn't possible.
The Bible is written to reach you when you are happy and when you are sad. When life is good and full, and when it's empty and unbearable. So how should you read the Bible? Go to it as old friend, one who loves you and is patient with your progress.
So don't worry about what you don't understand. Read it for what you do understand, and in joyful expectation that more will come in good time – when you need it. If you need it! This is not just a book. This is a Holy Book, a miracle God created for you – capable of covering all your needs in good time.
It is a living document because the God who guides you is a Living God. His Holy Spirit is always with you, if you will only listen. And the Spirit that guides you in reading the Bible is the same Spirit that guided the men who wrote it. No wonder the Bible can speak to us on our terms and in anticipation of our needs.
Hard to believe? Yes, of course! All miracles are hard to believe, even when they happen to you – as this one will. That's right. The Bible was written for you, to reach you, to revive you, to nourish you and to inspire you to seek its Author. It asks only one thing of you. Treat it as you would a loving parent and not as a homework assignment. Remember, those scholars who sent Jesus to His death knew the Bible cold. The secret isn't knowledge. The secret is love.
It's about process not results. Leave the results to God. Just make sure you read the Bible – read little parts, or big parts – read a sentence here, a paragraph there. Just open the Bible and let the adventure begin. Yes, many of us find the Bible intimidating. But that's not God's fault. It's our fault.
The "Good Book" is a handbook on truth. It is a living document, a spiritual thing, meant to minister to your needs over a whole lifetime, no matter who you are – or where you live – or what language you speak. We can all speak the language of truth. God helps us to know it's His Book by writing it in such an impossible way. Start by believing He wrote it for you – as a matter of faith. Stop thinking that God is a boring, uncaring teacher! In your heart you know that's not true.
So get that book on your shelf right now. Don't think about it. Just do it. Start reading anywhere you like. And do it again tomorrow. Don't give up. You might start with something toward the end of the book. The New Testament is a little easier to grab on to – but decide right now that it won't matter to you if you don't understand what you read. Let what you do understand come as a complete surprise – part of the continual fun of picking up that ancient book and seeking the treasures within.
Do this on a regular basis, and your life will never be the same. And remember, there are thousands and thousands of churches – and neighbors and friends who will be glad to give you any help you want. In the end, that's the real lesson.
You are not alone. You are loved.
The Bible is proof of that.