A year and a half ago, I embarked on a project of reading all the way through the Bible. I didn’t make plans to do it in one year or even two years, but decided to go about it at my own pace. I don’t read every day, and I don’t read the same amount of chapters. I read however much I feel like reading--sometimes it’s a lot, sometimes it’s very little. Right now I’m in the book of Psalms.
There’s certainly a place for discipline when it comes to reading scripture--after all, there are plenty of places in the Bible itself that exhort believers to study and read it. But I don’t need to convince anyone of the guilt the average Christian feels when they admit they don’t have a daily “quiet time.” Christians know they need to read their Bibles.
And that’s exactly what I want to say. I want to shout from the mountaintops: “Read your Bible!” But I also want to shout: “Read it without guilt!” Psalm 1 speaks of delighting in the law of the Lord, of meditating on it day and night, of being like a tree planted by streams of water, a metaphor that speaks to bounty and glorious satisfaction, not guilt. And for the first time in my life, I feel like I am experiencing a taste of that delight--of truly desiring to spend time in God’s word.
Admitting that is humbling. There have certainly been periods of my life when I clung to God’s word, when it was sweet to me and necessary; but these periods were accompanied by trouble or pain of some kind. I have a good knowledge of scripture--I’ve read every book in it multiple times--and I have a thorough education in theology, for which I’m grateful. And my heart has wanted to delight in scripture, because I love the Lord. But until the past few years, reading the Bible was always something I did because I knew I should, not something I did because I truly, truly wanted to.
The change for me came when I decided to approach it like a story. Instead of asking myself to journal or even reflect in a structured way on what I read, I simply read. I read as much or as little as I want, and the result has been transformative. I have begun to see the Bible as the story of God--not the story of how God’s plan affects me. And with this shift in perspective, it is endlessly more dear to me and much more fascinating.
Understanding the Bible as the story of God, and not of me, has altered everything about how I view myself in relation to him. It’s changed me theologically as well as practically (some of which I unpacked in this previous post.) Discovering how compelling the character of God is in scripture has set me off on a new journey of reading theology, because it has reinforced to me how little I know of God, and how much help I need in interpreting his character.
Reading the Bible in this way has also upended what I thought the Bible said about women, which in turn has upended how I think about myself and about the church. There is so much noise around the issue of women in the church: centuries of culturally motivated mistreatment, a pendulum swing in the opposite direction and an assumption that the Bible itself is anti-women, and so many opinions and personal experiences one way or the other. Part of reading the Bible with no agenda meant shutting out all that noise and just discovering what the story actually said.
What I found was a profound understanding of what it means to be a woman, and to be honest, I was not ready for it. Far from many people’s assumption that there are no stories about women in scripture (or at least very few) I found the story that the Bible tells about men and women and the world at large to be searingly honest. There are stories of women triumphing, (like Jael and Esther), there are stories of women who are smarter than their husbands (like Abigail), there are stories of women being uplifted (like Hannah and Mary), there are stories of women who are evil (like Jezebel), and there are many, many stories of women being abused or mistreated.
The fact that there are so many stories about women being abused in the Bible used to bother me, because like most people, I want heroes to look up to, not a continual reminder of how women have been treated. But as I read through the Old Testament without layering on my own preconceptions, I found something true emerging: the Bible honors women by being honest. The message of the Bible is that sin has entered the world and has wrecked it; for women, this means continually being subjugated by men. The fact that the Bible does not hide this is a testament to how women are given equal status within its pages.
These are just examples of the way scripture has revealed itself to me. There is a quote attributed to Gregory the Great that reads: “Scripture is like a river...broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” I find this idea comforting and sustaining, and a reminder that in our world of immediate gratification, this is one thing I can’t have instantly. There are things spoken in scripture that I don’t understand that I will wrestle with for years, if not for the rest of my life. There are bits that have revealed themselves to me only after years of mulling them over. There are things I didn’t even know I didn’t understand, only to have them change shape suddenly before my mind’s eye and become gloriously bright.
What I do know, however, is that the Bible is neither a book about me, nor intended as a weight of guilt; it is a gift. What I want to say is: read your Bible. But perhaps consider reading it differently--maybe let go of your structure, and allow yourself to enjoy it as the story it is. It may change everything.
Artwork by Bruce Buescher
Open and Unafraid
David O. Taylor