I was challenged to read the entire Bible last year. It sort of got away from me, and I was disappointed at the end of the year that I hadn’t managed to keep my mind focused enough. However, this year from the first Monday to today [because I’ll be busy tomorrow and I didn’t want to stuff up] I kept to my plan, I caught up when I fell behind and I finished reading the entire Bible.
Now, keep in mind that while I looked up commentaries and asked wise people when I didn’t understand things as well as regularly watched “The Bible Project” videos on YouTube [highly recommend] I don’t claim to know it all or have had any grand revelations. However, I have come away with a thing or two.
I went to Hillsong for a long time. If you have never heard of them, I think the safest thing to say is they love love. They preach it every week, and I basked in it for so long, safely shying away from an image of a God who would judge and wreak havoc on humanity from time to time. However, fear is often based in a misunderstanding and so, when confronted by atheists and Christians and Muslims and everything in between about the very clear passages about it, I didn’t know what to say. And, if you know anything about me, I hate not knowing what to say.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect loves drives out fear.” 1 John 4:18
Now I go to an Anglican Church. Last year I did a gap year with a bunch of Anglicans. And call it close to culture shock to hear as much as I did about repentance, and supplication and fearing the Lord my God. We literally just sit in silence sometimes and say sorry. When I was younger, I used to roll my eyes and look at my watch. I think also this anger- this arrogance- was part of not seeing the full picture.
“You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
“You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the LORD Almighty? But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.” -Malachi 2:17
Perhaps the best comparison is hanging out with your parents. You think you know them really well, but as you sit and actually listen, they tell you crazy stories about themselves [my dad once got on a bus to Perth to meet a pen pal who wasn’t at home in the end], and they give you advice you tend to ignore until it’s too late and you’re heartbroken, and they say things you really weren’t expecting and maybe if they didn’t know you as well as they did it would be offensive [oftentimes, it still stings and you need to stomp off and think about it for a bit].
“My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgement and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” Proverbs 3:21-24
Hanging out with the Bible was not easy. It really does say crazy things sometimes. And there are all these sentences you’ve heard a thousand times but never seen what came before or afterwards. There are so many things people use out of context! What really hit me in the guts were the stories and proverbs I’ve heard a billion times and never really thought about before.
It won’t be much of a surprise to some people, but I realised to how much of an extent Jesus was a great guy. You have this huge build up of the Old Testament towards this king, this prophet and preacher and shepherd and stronghold, and salvation and conquerer and then you get hit with this man who gravitates towards the sick, outcasts and kids. I can almost feel the overwhelming anticlimax, especially as you get to know the Israelites and all they’ve gone through to get to this man. We all knew he’d have to be born as a baby, but it just does something to you as you travel these wonders and songs about an amazing God, who again and again refuses to be contained, and then submits himself to that as a part of a master plan which ends in death at the hands of those he created. Thank God it concludes not with death but with triumph [literally].
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature [or, in the form of] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
Buy becoming obedient to death-
Even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
You need the Old Testament to bring colour to the rest of the story, add depth and dimensions and bring out aspects you couldn’t even see before, whereas for so long I was afraid of it.
Ultimately I think my perspective of God became a lot clearer. I have been warned to steer clear of trying to fit him into my little human box, but I can see this clear pattern that pastors with degrees and wisdom have been trying to drill into my brain since I accepted Christ.
He just wants people to love him, and he loves them.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
All of the rest of the stuff fits so clearly into that. Inextricably comes how we behave towards others.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” 1 John 4:11-12
The consequences of rebellion are often highlighted by non-Christians; the fire and brimstone, etc. But it is just so significantly highlighted that every time there is punishment there were so many signs and warnings to turn back to God. The laws are so the people can love God and eachother properly, which is again demonstrated in the Old Testament where God says to the religious people he despises their religious festivals because their hearts are in the wrong place [Amos 5:21]. Jesus goes on to call them whitewashed tombs, who are so right on the outside but so dead on the inside [Matthew 23:27].
It was sometimes really difficult to look past what was happening to and with God’s people and the people around them, but this message of hope, this call to love and God’s offer of blessing was always open. It was there from the very first book, where he called them to be rulers in his image, and they screwed up [Genesis 2-3]. Then he blesses and makes covenants and keeps doing this until the very last book [Revelation 1:6]. It is moments like that when I realised my view was all too small.
In conclusion, I think you should read the Bible whoever you are. We love claiming we know what it’s all about- it’s a common problem in these “Christian” countries, surrounded by religions that claim they have taken bits of the same book. I’d warn you against making a cake from a recipe you thought you knew or with just a few ingredients you chose. If you want to disagree with it, read it cover to cover. If you claim to agree with it, read it cover to cover.
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 3:15-16
Be fairly warned though, it might take you a year.