The difference between knowing something and just knowing about it still stands as the most meaningful thing evangelicalism has taught me. My 16-year old mind was blown the first time somebody told me I could know everything about my future spouse and still not actually know them.
As a Christian, how I grow my relationship with the Bible is important. We can talk about how difficult it is to hold the Bible responsibly later. But it's a relationship I'm compelled to tend.
I've learned that I've learned lots of things about the Bible over the last four years. As a Bible major, it's all I'm graded to think about. The danger is obvious: spend so much time knowing things about it, and you might just stop getting to know it.
So at the beginning of the summer, egged on by two final classes that lay the "knowing about" stuff pretty thick, I decided to read through the Bible. I just finished the Old Testament a couple days ago. Hope you don't mind if I share some impressions I got.
1) The biblical God accommodates more than I'm comfortable with.
Let's talk about the scary stuff in the first couple of books. And let's be honest: at face value, a lot of that shit is weird and/or oppressive. I don't want to cut it out of my Bible. I'm also a little gun-shy proof texting from those books.
As I read, it feels like God is OK accommodating human beings. I've heard people describe it this way: each culture has a horizon above which certain things are possible and below which certain things are impossible. God's people in the Old Testament were, well, people. They were couched in a culture where certain some things-- good things that give dignity and preserve life-- weren't possible.
I don't claim to have explanations for why God told the Israelites to ransack and destroy cities. But as I square that up with the prophets speaking of a God that hates war and a future where violence will be banished, I wonder if this God is on a covert mission to bring a people to a place very different from where they started.
Freebie: we should stop acting like we're on a moral high ground. The Jesus I met six years ago feels very different from the one I know now, which means that God let me entertain some stupid ideas without correcting me right away. Isn't that how all good fairy tales go?
2) God really hates when people get exploited.
I mean, good God, there is nothing from the text that has screamed at me more. It actually annoyed me how much it came up. Just read Job. We think, "Oh, how encouraging it is that God is somehow involved amid our suffering," but as Job rages at what he believes to be God's judgement, he defends his innocence largely by saying that poor's desire has become his. The assumption, of course, is that God's idea of righteous puts concern for the poor at center stage.
The word 'exploit' came to mind a lot: things we do that simultaneously benefit us and takes from other people. We are quick to politicize this, which is unfortunate because I know I at least tend to imagine "them" being so unreasonable I don't have to put any skin in the game. After finishing the Old Testament, it's enough for me to recognize that we're good at exploiting people and God likes people who have learned to do right by their neighbor. I have to figure out what that looks like for me.
3) Nothing replaces first-hand experience of the Bible.
Of course reading the Bible is frustrating. Of course it's hard to do without making serious mistakes along the way. Of course it will feel pointless at times. All worthwhile things feel that way. That hardly means you stop showing up to them. You keep leaning in, even as the punches roll in, because beautiful things eventually grow.
photo cred: kasey