For the first time in several years I’m attempting a Bible-reading plan. There are myriads of reasons why I haven’t done one the past few years, some of which I’ve written about, some of which I haven’t. Suffice it to say I’ve had a very tenuous relationship with the Bible the past few years.
Lest you think this is happening in a vacuum, I’ve had honest conversations with wise and dear friends about these very things. I realize that at times I’m simply a child throwing a tantrum because my parent didn’t respond to my requests in the way I’d hoped. Fair enough.
There are also things that I feel, things I realize, which are also the result of “religion”, by which I mean the imposition of ritual and rules that are entirely man-made and not from any actual command of God, or out of a desire for relationship with Him, but rather from an attempt to make myself appear “holy” through effort. In NOT following a reading plan and NOT reading a portion of Scripture (or any, if I’m honest) in a given day or period of time, I feel a tremendous amount of guilt. I feel like a kid who has failed to do my chores and now is waiting for a disapproving look or word from my dad. And while there is a place in time for obligation, for discipline in anything worthwhile, when it is repeatedly done in this way it simply becomes rote. And that is no good.
Another thing which has contributed to my dry spell of reading Scripture is how we (Christians) often go to the Bible for quick and easy fixes to whatever problems or issues one might be facing. We say “read this scripture, memorize it, and you’ll be fine.” We want to take Psalm 42 and jump immediately from “My tears have been my food day and night” to “why are you cast down, o my soul? Hope in God!” Yes, I realize those verses are right next to one another, but real life has shown me we don’t normally jump from crying out “WHY????” from the depths of despair to “Oh this makes sense!” in a few moments. It takes time: days, months, even years. Who knows how long it took the Sons of Korah to write that psalm? We read it and make it a formula instead of allowing it to have room to breathe. We want to jump to a nice tidy ending, not sit in the dryness of the desert, like a panting deer.
And that’s probably my biggest issue with reading the Bible right now: the way we’ve created a systematic, easy-answer, chapter and verse response to EVERYTHING. We don’t know how to simply sit with sorrow, or with doubt, or with pain, or the weight of the unkown, whether in ourself or someone else. We want to FIX it. NOW. We want to wrap everything up with neat little bows, especially when it comes to that most pain-ridden and sorrowful of subjects, death! For example: we will pray ardently for someone to be healed but then quickly move to “Well, God must have needed them up there more than we did down here” and other such trite sayings instead of just admitting, “This sucks!” Or simply weeping with those who weep. We make jokes at funerals because we can’t handle the weight of sorrow.
Jesus didn’t seem to have a problem with it. He wept at his friend’s grave, even though he knew he’d raise him from the dead. But us? Oh no, we’re victorious! We laugh at death! I get it…I do…don’t come at me, bro. But I think many times we are simply modern versions of Job’s friends at their worst. We have to come up with answers because we are unable sit with the unknown, or with the hard, to simply be in the brokenness around us.
This ain’t easy.
I get why we do these things, I do. It’s a way to cope, a way to deal. But in the end these coping mechanisms often come up way short. We don’t have all the answers we want. Quite often, the answer to my questions and/or prayers is simply abject silence. I’m sure you can relate. Explaining that away, however, has not been helpful for me. A memory verse may help, or it may not. And I’m learning to be ok with that. I’m trying to be ok with that. Being sorrowful at death does not mean we lack faith, it means we understand the full weight of it. It’s not a sign of weak faith, no. I’d say it’s a sign of real faith.
What does this have to do with a Bible-reading plan? Well, I find we are now nearing the glorious month of May, and I am still plodding ahead with the plan I started at the turn of the year. I wish I could say it’s been easy (it hasn’t). I’ve been “behind” for quite some time, having missed days. I’ve resisted the urge to “catch up”, realizing that’s just a performance-driven mindset and isn’t helpful. Somedays, I’m encouraged, others ambivalent, and still others frustrated by what I’ve read. But I keep on. The notes in the margins remind me of times gone by, of things that happened (good and bad) and how this verse or that spoke to me years ago. Sometimes I find these reminders helpful, and at other times I feel as though they were written by another person in another life.
And you know, in some ways, they were.
But I keep on, not out of obligation (at least I think not), but because of what I hope to find again: the joy and solace I once had, because I still believe the real Jesus can be found in those pages. I keep on because, like that deer, panting in the Desert, I still believe He alone can satisfy. I keep on because I don’t want to let a season in that same desert, as dry as it may be, keep me from what might be over the next rise, or around the next corner.
I keep on because I still have hope in a King and Kingdom that is already, but not yet.
Maybe you can relate?