Sunday, January 5, 2014

Before Opening Your Bible

          Not too long ago I opened a Bible and was saddened by what I read.  For there, on the initial fly-leaf, were written in beautiful calligraphic script the words, “Presented to Cathy Ruth by Mom and Dad, April 18, 1993”. In the subsequent pages allowing space for the recording of marriages and deaths, I also found a number of names and dates, commemorating those events.  The reason I was sad to read the dedication to Cathy Ruth by Mom and Dad is that I found and purchased this Bible at the local Value Village for $1.99.   (I have altered the actual name, just in case “Cathy” is reading this.)
            Of course I have no idea of what might have led Cathy Ruth to junk her Bible, giving it to Value Village perhaps along with old Harlequin novels and tapes of (how’s your memory?) “Rhythm & News”.  Perhaps she is continuing in zealous service of her Lord and now has so many Bibles she needs to lighten the load on her library shelf, but given that this volume was given to her by her parents, I think this unlikely.  A more likely scenario is that Cathy Ruth has drifted away from her youthful faith and now values that Bible no more than she values old copies of Harlequin romances and tapes of the boys’ bands she once listened to.  How does this happen?  How does one go from opening one’s Bible and reading with compunction to throwing it into a box for donation to Value Village?
            It all depends upon how we read the Bible.  Do we read it like we are performing a chore?  Do we consider Scripture-reading a duty, something we do to please God, who for some inexplicable reason insists that we read religious literature we find boring as a kind of podvig?  If so, it is not surprising that we find persevering in that task difficult, and would be only too relieved to be done with it all.  If we read our Bible as a duty and nothing more, it is all but certain that it will soon acquire a coat of dust and end up at Value Village.  But there is another way to read the Scriptures.
            That way is to focus on love for Christ and not performance of duty as the central motivation of our life.  We then will not think in terms of duties (or “works”, to use Pauline terminology), or of things we must do to get on God’s good side.  Rather, we think only of Christ and of our relationship with Him.  The first question to be faced before ever thinking of opening a Bible is:  “Do you know and love Jesus?”  Is Jesus simply an historical figure, with whom you have no real relationship, and thus on par with other historical figures, such as Socrates or the Buddha?  Or do you really know Him, and find in His love for you the reason for your existence?  This latter is the only way for a Christian, and without this relationship with the living Christ our Orthodoxy is simply a sham.   This issue must be faced and resolved before beginning to seriously read the Bible, for the Bible is addressed only to those who have given their lives to God.  Reading Scripture seriously before we have given ourselves to Jesus is like reading someone else’s mail—it is no wonder that we can make little sense of it and quickly lose interest.
            When we have given our lives to Jesus we then find the Bible a different book than we first thought it was.  We now read the Old Testament to find Jesus there—hidden in typology and symbol, foreshadowed in Israel’s experiences, seen from afar by the prophets.  We read the New Testament to draw near to the Lord we have come to know—nourishing our hearts with His teaching in the Gospels, hearkening to the advice of His apostles in their letters which tell us how to serve Him better.  Once we have surrendered our lives to Him, our central aim will be to know Him more and more.  Reading the Scriptures will then be urgently relevant to our own needs and desires, for it addresses itself to our condition and tells us how to arrive at the destination we ourselves have chosen. 
            As we grow older and go through life’s stages, we of course undergo many changes.  Books we once read with interest now have little to say to us, and our taste in music and fashion changes.  (People of my vintage would not, I think, be happy to be seen wearing “bell-bottoms”.)  But not everything is subject to flux and change.  Some things abide and deepen with age—things such as appreciation of good music and literature, such as admiration for courage and self-sacrifice.   Our faith in Christ, if it is vital and real and if we nourish it so that it grows, will also abide—and with it, our joy in reading the Scriptures.  For those who truly know Jesus, it is unthinkable to turn away from Him and try to live without Him.  It is therefore equally unthinkable that we would discard as worthless something as important to our relationship with Him as our personal Bible—regardless of who gave it to us, and regardless of inscription on the fly-leaf.

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