Reading the Bible for Dummies

I’m going to out myself right now… I’m a bible reading newb… which is embarrassing considering I’ve owned a bible pretty well since the day I came into this world.

I’ve had too many bibles to count through my climb up the Sunday school ladder. They have had pictures, student study guides, footnotes, and lots of gospel goodness. They have been big, small, zipped up, bright pink, and leather bound. With each new edition came the hope that maybe the words inside would actually start to stick.

But opening my bible has always been a struggle. I would flop it open and hope that divine intervention would summon just the right verse at just the right time. I would use gel pens to underline John 3:16 and Matthew 6:34 to try and motivate further study.

You could say that my reading fell into gospel hopscotch—skipping around looking for the easy nuggets of wisdom like, “love your neighbor as yourself”. I avoided the madness of the Old Testament all together, unsure how the genealogy of David could teach me how to be a better Christian.

Here’s the problem: I was looking for myself in a book that is not about me.

When Paul sat down to write his letters, he was not thinking “how is this going to impact a young woman in the 21st century?” He wasn’t even thinking, “how are my letters going to impact Christians for the next 2000 years?” He was writing specifically to the churches in Corinth and the churches in Ephesus, etc.

The bible is a collection of writings, prayers, and prophesies. It’s a collection of inspiration, a record of history, and a book of story—stories of real people like Moses, Isaac, Peter, and Esther. It’s a book of testimony to what God did in their lives.

I began to try reading the books in the Bible not to try and figure out what Paul was saying to me but to figure out what Paul was communicating his churches. It was only then that I could start making connections — seeing lessons for Jesus followers in the past and figuring out how it applies for Jesus followers (like me) now.

Once I began to see the bible for what it was, the words came alive! I could see the life of David as an inspiration rather than a long-winded narrative of details I didn’t know what to do with, and the somber Psalms became a discovery of how hopeful the Hebrew people actually were in their sorrows. It is amazing how a little perspective can turn things a whole new colour.

Questions started to come alive in my mind: What did it mean to be a Christian if Jesus had not come? What kind of faith grew when condemnation was so real that one had to personally sacrifice because Jesus had not yet made the ultimate sacrifice? I thought of my continuous failures and how I fell short of honoring God on a day-to-day basis but how Jesus had taken that weight off my shoulders. It gave me goose bumps.

The most beautiful bible I have ever seen belongs to my father. It is light brown leather, with white wrinkles on every surface. Its pages have aged into almost a transparent yellow that are brittle to the touch. It has faithfully and fervently been picked up, carried, opened, and closed.

That worn leather bible is beautiful — not just in it’s rustic appearance, but in the way that it has been read — over and over in genuine pursuit of figuring out who Jesus is. And here’s the big bonus: the more we discover Jesus, the more we find out who we actually are.

Gaining a little context on the bible has turned my faith upside down and then right side up. It has become a necessity every time I crack the big book open — not just for the sake of reading but for the sake of remembering that it’s not about me. It’s about God and how he is saving, redeeming, and loving this world one story at a time.


Photo by (Flickr CC): le vent le cri