GQ magazine recently released a list of 21 books you don’t have to read. The Bible was on it. Reason being? “It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” Now, I don’t take the GQ editors as the final word on this, or even an authoritative word on much of anything aside from perhaps men’s fashion, but this made me realize what some people think of the Book that has stood the test of time and influenced societies for centuries.
All scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another. — 2 Timothy 3:16
I cut my teeth on wooden church pews then drew stick figures on offering envelopes during many church services until I was old enough to attend Sunday School. I was then taught Bible stories by felt-board-character-carrying-hard-candy-giving-“bless-their-heart”-saying church ladies. Verses were memorized. Songs were taught. I even attended a Bible college. I thought I knew what was in the Bible … until I decided to read it … like reallyread it … cover-to-cover.
Do you know what’s in there?
Stories of disobedience, lies, blame, lust, murder, mass extermination, idolatry, greed, incest, and child sacrifice. And that’s just in the first several chapters.
The church ladies never covered that!
No, the story of temptation, disobedience, and shame was played out by the very first human beings — a naive man and a misled woman who made a simple mistake by eating a delicious piece of fruit. They would immediately regret their actions, of course, and place the blame on the despicable snake, then dress themselves in leaves. Never mind the whole entrance-of-sin-into-the-world thing, the punishment of humankind, the curses dealt to earth, and the expulsion of humans from paradise.
And the story of mass extermination? Those church ladies brought out a small wooden boat, some stuffed animal couples, and taught us the catchy song, “The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky”. My biggest concern upon first hearing this story was that Mr. Elephant was missing his wife because some toddler chewed off her ears. (Never fear … she was repaired by Mrs. Smith, the church’s resident knitter-extraordinaire, and returned safely to the ark.)
As my first cover-to-cover journey through the Bible deepened into the Old Testament, I got more and more disturbed. I kept getting this icky feeling. I’d had it before. Yet I couldn’t place it until it dawned on me one day as I read the morning news. I realized then the Bible reads like the stories of today: death, destruction, illness, misogyny, slavery, racism, genocide, rape, torture, betrayal, murder, natural disasters. It’s the headline of every newspaper in every country every day on this earth.
I continued to read the Bible … because Hope. I knew it had to be there, because that’s all I had known previously. I had only focused on the good stuff. The redemptive stuff. The easy stuff. I skipped the hard parts. I didn’t want to ponder life in the valley. Yet it is there. And I finally began to see it … and feel it … and recognize it … and name it … in my own life as well.
It’s one of my favorite themes. It’s also one of God’s favorite themes and an overarching theme of the Bible. There are valleys and peaks. Mistakes and remedies. Sins and forgiveness. God loves to show us light in the darkness. He delights in directing us out of the briars and onto the path. His angels rejoice when we place one foot in front of the other towards Him.
The Bible is a collection of stories meant to encourage us. It’s mysteries? They challenge us. It’s diverse group of writers is meant to appeal to all of us. It’s God’s way of revealing his heart and mind to us.
Please don’t take my word for it though. Or the words of the GQ editors. Read it for yourself.