Learning to read the Bible differently. (Or how we can find Jesus by give up the need to be correct)

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The Bible is probably one of the most misunderstood collection of writings that exists. Personally, I really struggle with it and I’m a Christian. (Yes, despite what you might think I am).

It’s been misconstrued as everything from a manual for Christians to follow (good luck following Leviticus to the t) to an outdated book that has no relevance to anyone anymore.

Everyone is striving to find the correct way to read it.

But there is no one correct way to read the Bible. How can there be with a collection of writings that consist of poetry, apocalyptic metaphors, genealities, parables, pages and pages of obscure rules about the correct way to test if your wife was unfaithful (this is literally the most mental thing I’ve read). 

To stories about a carpenter who claimed to be God’s son.

That’s even before we remember that it was written over thousands of years to completely different people by many different writers who understood the world drastically different than those who came before them.

Imagine how different we read writings from today compared to writings from relatively recently like 50 years ago.

When it comes to reading the Bible, as I said, I struggle. After a while and you’ve heard similar messages over and over for most of your life, you start to desire something deeper. You become thirsty for something new.

Some people call the Bible, “The Living word of God”.

I really like this description because for something to be living it has to be breathing and changing and  parts of it need to die so that they can regrow. You can obviously be alive but just sit at home all day. However to be fully alive you need to walk about and experience the world and suffer and find joy and hurt and cry and laugh and get lost and find a way out.

Luther understood this dramatically as he led the Reformation.

It’s when I don’t view the Bible as alive that I find it the hardest to engage with. Because as I grew and changed and understood the world differently my reading of the Bible didn’t. I continued to see it as a rule book that really had no reference to my life today.

It wasn’t however until I started to hear about practices such as Lectio Divina and read people like Rob Bell, Peter Enns and Brian McLaren that I started to see that this is much more than I could have hoped for.

It became less about something that I needed to read everyday to maintain my Christian membership but rather something that I was able to breathe.

It became a mystical collection of writings.

We start to read the stories about Jesus, less about how we are supposed to behave morally and more about how His life was so weird and countercultural and as way of opening ourselves to the world.

We start to read the Old Testament less as an illustration of a violent, angry God and more of a God who is patient and actually light years ahead of how people viewed gods.

We start to see instructions about giving away 10% of our income less as a rule and more about our faith that we are going to be ok and allowing this to change us into people characterized by generosity.

We start to read the “myths” of things that happened less as factual textbook examples and more as metaphorical descriptions of deep truths.

As Rob Bell put it in Velvet Elvis, and I’m slightly paraphrasing here, perhaps the greatest truth about Adam and Eve, is not that it happened, but that it is happening.

Now, this idea of reading the Bible this way will be majorly troubling for some. Which is ok. For others, it will be freeing and will reveal a God who is nothing like they thought.

But I have in no way nailed this thing.

I began to work through a year in the Bible reading plan in January. Sometime around the beginning of February I stopped. Why? Because I had fallen into the trap of “needing” to read it. I felt a duty to; I felt that I needed to read the whole Bible in a year to unlock the next level of being a Christian.

I was listening to those voices that told me that I was on the wrong path with my faith instead of allowing myself to try and fail. I thought I needed a map, when really all I needed was to learn to get lost a little.

But it’s for those exact reasons that I stopped. It was actually better for me to stop reading the Bible if I was just attempting to hit some standard of Holiness. If I want to start again, I need to refocus on why I am doing it. I’ll probably have to do this everyday. I’m not expecting to come away with all the answers and knowledge. If I’m being honest, I’m tired of striving for that.

I don’t need or want to be correct about what the Bible says. We all have a history and experiences in life that shape how we read the Bible. Instead of denying those things, it’s time I start embracing their impact on how I read. In some ways many of us in the Western Christian culture can never understand it since we aren’t first century Jews.

Ultimately, I don’t want to be sure I know exactly what I believe if ‘believing’ makes no difference to my experience of Jesus, Love and Hope. Especially in relation to others. I wonder if actually our striving to be completely sure what certain passages mean, prevents us from seeing something new and truly life changing. I get that. We need certainty. It’s comfortable. But comfortable doesn’t usually lead to growth.

So as I continue to try and read the Scriptures, I’m going to be wrong sometimes and I’m going to contradict myself a lot.

But you know what, that’s ok. Because I’m breathing, I’m alive and I’m still on the journey.

Just like the Bible.

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