I Love Bibles . . .

By Jill Riley

I love Bibles. I am particular to brown and red leather Bibles, although I can also rock the official black leather. I have other preferences too. Recently I have developed distaste for “compact” Bibles because the print keeps shrinking and I think cardboard covers somehow cheapen the quality of the contents.

One of my favorite leisure activities is to roam the book store aisles, coffee in hand and look up my favorite verses in the new translations or paraphrases, scoff under my breath at the “one minute a day” and anime versions, look at the newest iterations of pictures and maps; all the while asking myself whether one volume or another should be deemed worthy of my dollar.  In this western affluent world where we can get not just one of anything we want, like Bibles, but as MANY as we want, what makes something precious? What makes it special?

These are the kinds of questions I am so often asked by the skeptics, curious, and dissenters that we call our church members. They ask, “How can the Bible be the sacred text, the foundation of wisdom, knowledge, peace and future when so many human hands and minds could have muddied up the works and influenced the outcome?” I’ll admit to you here quietly and somewhat ashamedly that I really can see their point! How dare we weigh and decide the balance of our lives on one book that has human hands all over it? How can that book then possibly be divine?

This book is historically verified. It has been archeologically vetted. Literarily it is genius. And yet, this is not how I lead into a conversation on the sacredness of the text.  I speak to our friends about how the GOD of the Bible has changed my life. I share how it has given me hope in the darkest of days; through thoughts of suicide, deep debilitating depression, a child diagnosed with cancer, the abandonment of my mother, the death of my father, and the rigor of every day pastoring.  It is sacred because the God who loves me is an active presence during my reading and brings those words to me in times of need, crisis and care.  THIS is what I tell our doubters and skeptics. I DARE them to trust words in the Bible. I am confident that when they do, their hearts will be changed and the sacredness of the texts becomes a personal and not academic conversation.

In the midst of my great confidence in God’s truth, I do still sometimes I wonder if I am doing enough?

Should I foray into the history, archaeology, and languages of the scriptures to prove that it is the real deal?

Or can I be content with explaining the sacredness of the text through subjective human experience?

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26 thoughts on “I Love Bibles . . .

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  1. It is sometimes difficult for those of us who grew up fundamentalist to think of the bible as a life-giving wellspring of grace and hope for those who suffer and seek meaning in life. I grew up doing “sword drills” and learning the bible, chapter and verse, so that I could wallop over the head people who behaved in ways my community considered ungodly – and that was A LOT of ways. Evangelicalism leads toward apologetics so much so that the science of the text most often overwhelms its transformative power. Thanks for this entry, Jill.

    1. I too was raised doing sword drills!!! I also felt like a horrid christian, and recommitted myself so many times because of my lack of dedication to God – as evidenced by my sporadic reading of the Bible. I wish that I had known that God wasn’t measuring my love for Him by a Bible reading chart!

  2. Thanks for this first Theoloqui blog entry Jill. Good ponderings! I love Hildegard’s vision of the Word:
    “No creature has meaning without the Word of God. God’s Word is in all creation, visible and invisible. The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. The Word flashes out in every creature.” May the Word flash out in every posting of Theoloqui!

  3. I love these thoughts, Jill! In addition to interacting with Scripture as a personal conversation, I would add the importance of a corporate conversation. That we need to engage with Scripture – in all of its beauty and power and foreignness and messiness – on our own and with others. I think of the ways God has used people reading Scripture together and what it has done to move and shake things up to help the Church move toward more of God’s Kingdom here on earth. I think of the earliest Jewish Christians reading the Torah and the rest of the Hebrew Bible together. The Spirit of God was in that, even when it got messy, and what came of it was the full inclusion of Gentiles in this new Jesus movement! I think of the way reading Scripture together has been a part of the affirmation of women as leaders and pastors, and the ways it has encouraged and motivated those who have participated in movements for freedom. Imagine what God will do with real people engaging with Scripture in their real lives? together. regularly. with God’s Spirit… How will God’s Kingdom break through God’s people opening up their Bibles and inviting the Holy Spirit into that?!? Addendum: Perhaps I’m ahead of myself for next week’s post! I think that the personal engaging with Scripture is vital as well. One of those both/and… 🙂

  4. After reading this post on Monday, I have been noticing all the Bibles I have around me. There’s my favorite one- the pink one with the big daisy on the cover- given to me by my mom. There’s the one in the blue zippy cover thing- given to me by a mentor in college. There’s my Jesus Storybook Bible that I read nearly everyday with my kids. And the black one I received at ordination. And the Message that helps me see passages in a different light. And the TNIV that reminds me that women are included in God’s great story. The Greek and Hebrew ones that kept me up late for so many nights through seminary. And we can’t forget the Precious Moments one I carried between church and Sunday school all through childhood! And those are just the ones that I have near me.

    What jumps out to me is how most of the Bibles on my shelf are linked to a community that has been formative to my faith. The scriptures contained inside the covers are nearly identical- each tells the story of God and his movement towards people- but what is different about each of these Bibles is the people who surrounded me and helped me understand those Scriptures in a deeper way. People who opened Scripture to share how Joseph faithfully followed God’s call even through personal agony, and then shared how God carried them through losing loved ones, bankrupt businesses, failed dreams, and other unbearable losses. Seeing the same theme of God’s love for us carried through the pages of Scripture and through the lives of people and through my own life has made me love Scripture. Through these communities, God has used Scripture to teach me, guide me, encourage me, strengthen me, remind me that I am not in charge, and call me to action. And that’s why Scripture is precious to me!

    Thanks for starting this conversation, Jill! I am excited to follow for the next 6 months!

    1. Wow. I’ve never thought about my collection of bibles in that way, with such communal significance. But it’s SO true. I think this ties in well with Jen’s comment above – of the many voices and contexts that are continually speaking into our hermeneutic whether we realize it or not…and prayerfully, we will find ourselves pursuing and desiring diverse and varied voices in the midst. Thanks for sharing this, Mary!

      1. Oh man. Did I ever take heat for using the TNIV Bible regularly for the church . Not from our members, they don’t care. But from conservatives who were pretty sure I had chosen the devil’s version.

      2. Jill, why was TNIV the devil’s version? Because it’s gender inclusive?

      3. I was quoted many articles by Piper (i think) and other reformed pastors that touted the inaccuracy of the translation and how the language was stretched in favor of gender inclusion.

      4. I used to take my TNIV to my Greek class at the ultra-conservative/ fundamental seminary just to make my professor have a hissy fit. 🙂

  5. Jill, I laughed at your scoffing at the kitsch-y versions…that sounds familiar! I’ve definitely done that.

    Yet you got me thinking about the fluidity of the texts themselves. I love your reminder that the Bible matters to us because it points us to God—not because on it somehow “contains” God. I have my own preferences regarding translations and versions—and I think it’s important to recognize that we approach these texts with reverence, not flippancy. That said, you also remind me that the text breathes. It lives. So, yes, our experience of God matters. We don’t read Scripture apart from that experience, or in spite of it.

    1. I love this: “the text breathes.” As my church has committed to reading through the Psalms everyday together, I’m often reminded of these words, Cathy. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the Psalms throughout my life, but I’m continually moved by a fresh wind in the text as I find myself in new seasons, contexts and spaces, e.g. Psalm 18 resonated with a whole new timbre on the day of Seattle Pacific University’s shootings.

      The Scripture lives and breathes indeed.

      1. Gail, I love that you all are exploring the Psalms and I too love the phrase, “the text breathes.” The Psalms are a great example of that. Even in the harder or more melancholy Psalms: they breathe life because they give permission to cry out and vent to a living God.

      2. I agree and love those words “the text breathes.” When I think about how I see and interact with scripture, it’s always breathing and being given new life through the life of the world, my community and, sometimes, even my little life. Something that meant the world to me a ‘million years ago’ can sometimes ring hollow while texts that were simple and ones I probably glossed over bring me to my knees.

    2. But seriously . . . the lego Bible is legit. In Bible college we had to read certain books in several translations. Comic book Bible was vetoed. Killjoy profs.

  6. Jill and Mary, this is a good reminder. As an evangelical (one who is used to seeing Bibles everywhere), I wonder if I’m now blind to the Bibles in my daily pathway. Whether the illustrated children’s Bible or the King James or my ordination NRSV (huge) Bible, it would be an interesting practice to pick up these Bibles even for a few moments and page through or read a passage from the varieties that cross my path. Thanks!

    1. Can you see, with this proliferation of texts, how people get ‘ishy’ about the divinity and sacred issue? I think many skeptics view it like taking an old movie and putting it in technicolor – not how it was originally intended, just made better by somebody else’s vision.

  7. I think you’ve touched on a tension we’re feeling in the continuing story of evangelicalism within our cultural context.

    On one hand, we can conflate God with his Word (or as a prof once said of the evangelical trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Scriptures) – where knowledge, memorization are markers of devotion. On the other hand, we can separate God too much from his Word – and how can we do that when this one of his primary chosen means of self-revelation, affirmed by the Church for so many years?

    From a Western Christian perspective, we used to live in a world that craved certainty, hence fundamentalism (and modern liberalism). We “know better” now that God is revealed in Scripture, but not boxed in by them. But part of me wonders if the movement of separating God from Scripture is also because we are in an age no longer defined by certainty, but cynicism – and that firewall is our way of shielding God from even our own shared skepticism about the Word (via archaeology, historical criticism, science, etc.).

    I resonate with your question, but I guess I experience it this way: It used to be that we built people’s faith in Scripture so they could have faith in God. But now, in building people’s faith in God, is it leading to greater faith in his Word?

  8. Jill, I love this post! Someone recently got my daughter the Jesus Story Bible, and we’ve been reading it together. We were looking at Genesis last night, and I love the way in this version God creates light by saying “Hello, light. You are good.” God continues like this for the rest of creation. It’s so simple but such an interesting take. As we continued through that section, I felt that this children’s version really got it right – God thinks this is good. Talk about sacred! I’m so glad that my daughter is learning from the start that God loves and sees beauty.

  9. These are great questions and I wish we could have a glass of wine and discuss them face to face! Love reading your writing dear friend and am excited to follow you here!

  10. Jill, what a BEAUTIFUL reflection! Thank you so much for your transparent, thoughtful, and raw offering. It actually grieves me that actual scriptural exegesis is so often left out of sermons, commentary, and teaching nowadays. I was at a conference not too long ago and noticed that very few speakers actually taught from the text. Lot’s of great ideas were shared; some even stuck with me, but I left thinking something was missing … and that’s what it was! I missed the powerful “ah-ha!” moments when you realize that this ancient text is speaking directly to my experience today. In other words, that moment when I finally understand…that God understands.

    I think my Intervarsity training has ruined me for this. I’ll never forget being in our chapter’s manuscript study of the Book of Mark at U.S.C. We were studying the Passion of Christ and it was falling like a thud on this jaded group of undergrad and grad students. I mean a loud thud. Folks were like, “So, what? Jesus on the cross. La-dee-dah-dah-dah. (pause for yawn.)” I walked home with our study leader that night and he was frustrated beyond belief. I remember him saying something like: “People think they know it, so they gloss over it and are ho-hum with the text, but they’re not SEEING what’s there right in front of their eyes!” This is NOT ho-hum! That text is revolutionary. It’s even epic, but because they think they know they don’t dig. So their hearts are hardened to the text. In my experience, there is NOTHING more powerful than the text itself for teaching, correction, healing, vision, and discernment.

    Thank you for your beautiful reflection! May the power of the Word itself catch on and ignite the church for witness and healing like we’ve rarely seen before.

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