Turn the Page

READING THE BIBLE AS A STORY INSTEAD OF AS A CHORE

So I have a confession to make; I watched the first season of Stranger Things in under twenty-four hours when it first came out. I was suffering through the worst stomach flu of my life and couldn’t sleep. I was also curious what all the hype was about surrounding this show. So from 9:30pm – 4:30am I binged eight episodes, never once intending to pull an all-nighter.

There is something about a story that pulls you in…the characters, the adventure, the twists and turns, the likely defeat and long-shot hope…something about it serenades our souls. It still amazes me how, without trying, I read myself into the plot and begin to imagine life within the narrative. It’s what brings us back to the theater for the sequel, makes us run frantically to the TV for the new episode, and keeps us up at night wondering how it’s all going to resolve.

We all love a good story. So how is it that the Bible, the Greatest Story ever told, is seen as a joyless chore much like sorting through old mail or filing taxes? Why is it that perhaps the only story that we’ll ever read, in which we actually get to play a part in, is the very thing we put off? One of my greatest challenges in working in youth ministry is finding new ways to inspire students to read their Bibles. In a microwave generation that is notification saturated it seems nearly impossible for students to read for 5 minutes without being distracted by social media, texts, invites, and the like. And yet, we all make time to watch our favorite TV shows. We silence our phones (and our friends) for a movie premier. Ironically, this entertainment is of little to no benefit and has zero eternal impact. Why?

Maybe we’ve been reading the Bible wrong all this time. 

Imagine you pick up the book, The Return of the King, from the LotR series, and begin reading in Chapter Seven – The Prye of Denethor. You’ve never read the books or seen the movies before. Sure, you might be able to get the gist of a certain scene or appreciate the dialogue but you wouldn’t have an appreciation or understanding of the big picture of the story. It would be fragmented, disjointed, and distant. We don’t read literature like that; the Bible just so happens to be literature.

Starting January 1st, I made a New Year’s resolution (something I rarely do) to attempt and read the Bible from beginning to end in forty days. I had recently received a kickstarter project I had helped fund called “Bibliotheca”. The creator, Adam Greene, set out to print a Bible in five separate volumes without using verses, cross-references, or even chapter divisions. The end product looks and feels every bit like a novel. The hope was that eliminating the encyclopedic nature of our modern Bibles would help immerse the reader into a intimate experience, same as reading our favorite book.

Since I have no frame of reference of how much I’ve read, it has inspired me to read large portions, entire books, of the Bible in one sitting. And a truly wonderful thing has happened…I don’t want to put it down. I find myself reading myself into Genesis and Joshua, empathizing with their plights and genuinely praising God for their victories like it’s the first time I had ever read the story. I catch myself thinking about it during my work hours and hiding away to read more during my lunch breaks. What’s more I have a greater sense of Who God is than ever before…and it isn’t coming from a retreat or a night filled of worship, it’s because I’m engaged in a story. And without feeling religious obligation I can honestly say that it is the most amazing story I have ever read, felt, or believed. I am convinced that this is how the Word of God is meant to be handled…not as a book divided into fortune cookie bites but as a sanctuary of imagination and wonder. It is so much more impactful. My theology is benefitting tremendously but more importantly I just love God more.

It’s at this point that I feel the temptation to qualify what I’ve reported by saying, “I know we don’t all have time to read the Bible like that…”, but reality is that you do. I’m not pressuring anyone to read the Bible like a story; I’m simply recommending a really good book.