Release day is coming tomorrow for a beautiful piece of work, Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey – a favorite author of mine for several years now. I mentioned my appreciation for feeling in good company as I have also “sorted” through my faith over the course of several years. It put words to my own evolution of faith.
By far, my biggest change in the past 5-10 years comes in the way I read my Bible. I’m still a Bible nerd – I read nearly daily, even the “boring” parts. I spent the good part of 6 months marching through Deuteronomy because of my fascination. (If you’ve never read Deuteronomy, it contains a few stories and about a million commands, things like when to eat fruit from trees, how to take women prisoner and other exhilarating details).
I’m not alone when I say that I can reread passages and walk away with a new understanding – many longtime Bible lovers do this. My notable change came in the way I approach scripture. I agree with Rob Bell when he says that referring to the Bible as a User’s Manual for Life is the most terrible thing you can do to the book. Who reads the user manuals? No one – at least, not until they get into trouble. And user manuals give directions, they don’t change people. I’ve never read a review of my toaster’s manual and felt inspired. I don’t keep the washing machine directions in my purse or car for emergency reading. Manuals like this tend to be dry, confusing and induce frustration. That’s not the Bible I know.
The Bible wasn’t just written by and for judges and priests, but also by storytellers. Especially the Gospels, the stories of Jesus. It’s not a laundry list of sayings or a cliff’s notes version of his life – the people who took the time to etch these words did so with purpose and intention. When you read it as a manual, looking for step A and part C, you miss the story. And any good book lover will tell you that stories change you.
So what’s the Bible about? It’s the story of God and his people. It’s a rendering of the many ways people have sought after God – sometimes failing, sometimes victorious, sometimes missing the point completely. But always, always, it does something: it reveals the nature and character of God. That’s how we know someone, yes? In the interactions – in the comings and goings, in the good times and bad. And not just with one person, but with many. Through the pages of scripture we see how God deals with the religious and the outsiders, the upstanding and the shunned, the forgotten and the righteous.
I’ve begun a practice of reading to seek out an understanding of God’s character. I agree with Sarah – Does this interpretation move us further into understanding the nature and character of God, toward compassion, love, justice, reconciliation and above all, resurrection and redemption? When I finish a passage of the Bible, I ask myself, “well, what did that just tell me about who God is?”
I think critically about not only the words used in passage and “what it says to me” but first what it said to the original, intended readers. How did this change their understanding of the world, and their understanding of God? We live in a monotheistic society – even among those who actively don’t believe in God, they’re not believing in a god, not many gods (yes, I just significantly over-simplified that idea). Yet the Bible was written into a culture where garden variety gods were plentiful. You could pick a god to rectify any given ailment or situation. So, given that this God of the Hebrews – the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the God of Jesus of Nazareth, was one of many available Gods for worship, what does the passage of scripture tell me about why this God is different? Why is this God worthy of commitment and worship?
Nearly always, these questions lead me to greater faith – not because the easy answer readily rises to the top, but because God’s nature shines through. I cannot say it better than Sarah does:
“I cling more to my Bible now than I used to; I lean more heavily on the stories and the promises, on the visions and the hope. I am challenged and changed in ways I never was when I took every word literally – now that I take them so seriously.”
Out of Sorts officially launches on November 3. You can get yours on Amazon or a local bookstore.