Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Connecting with the Story

Do you have the expectation that reading the Bible should be easy? Have you tried reading the Bible, but since it didn't make sense, you quit? Maybe you have the feeling that reading the Bible should leave you with a sense of enlightenment? Did you find the Bible to be boring?

The word "Bible" is just another word for book. The Christian Bible is a collection of sixty-six books. In reading any book, it is important to grasp what kind of book you are reading. The Bible is not an in instruction manual. The Bible is not a self-help guide. The Bible is not a scientific tract. The Bible is not even a history tome. The Bible - all sixty-six books connected together - is a story book. The Bible is a book about a story, the main character being the God of Israel.

To say it is a story is not to imply that it is a fairy-tale, that it is dealing in make-believe, that it is fiction. A story that resonates with you is a story rooted in reality. The stories that endure are the ones that tap into deep truths. The story within the Bible is one that reveals relevant insights into the nature of humanity, the tasks of Israel's God, and the flow of power in the world. And other stuff. Stuff that is crucial to compelling stories we still read today. Which is why so many people still read the Bible.

If you tried reading the Bible and you quit because of whatever reason, but you're interested in giving it another go, let me know. I'd be glad to be helpful in this next go with the Bible.

This idea of Bible as story is not new. It's often how the Bible gets presented in Sunday School. The idea of the Bible as a plausible story for adults - well that is new. We grow up with the Bible as a story, but then as adults the Bible turns into a book of historical facts and spiritual truths. The Bible loses its edge to  inspire through story and instead becomes a confusing source of religious propaganda.

For me, reading the Acts of the Apostle as story rather than as "keys" to building an effective has been really refreshing. First, I perceive the author of the book to be brilliant and intentional. The author crafted this book to make multiple points, he's arranged material with an eye for communicating a big range of ideas. Second, I perceive the author to be one of integrity and character. The author is crafting a book that connects with what really happened. He's not writing a pure history book, he's not writing a church-planting manual, and he's not writing fiction. He's telling a selective story about the origins of the Church. So if I want to connect with the story, I need to try and see the story from the author's perspective.

I've never preached through the book of Acts because I've never really connected with the story. It's been a boring book for me for a long, long time. But as I reconnected with the Gospel of Luke, and began to realize how it shapes the story in Acts, a new perspective emerged. Acts is not just a random collection of ancient stories strung together to highlight miracles and adventures. It is a carefully arranged story that moves the legacy of Jesus forward.

 It's important to note the flow of the story. When you read something that doesn't make sense, instead of glossing over it, stop and consider why that verse, that sentence, that paragraph is there. Everything is interconnected, so if it doesn't make sense, other stuff won't make sense. For example:
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"

This is the response of Jews in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks having heard a sermon from Peter. For the longest time I was not able to understand this response to Peter's sermon. When I would read and reread Peter's sermon, I wasn't cut to the heart! So why were they? What was it that Peter said about God and Jesus, about the crucifixion and resurrection, that cut the people to the heart? This is important for the flow of the story. But since I didn't get the connection for years, I glossed over it. And in glossing over it, most of Acts lost a lot of its edge. So I kept plugging away, going over and over, getting other insights until the story made sense.

Of course I have to work that hard to have the story make sense - it's an ancient story written in a different culture to a particular people in a foreign language using a unique literary style. If I'm going to connect with the story, I need to respect the brilliance and craftsmanship of the book. The people of two-thousand years ago weren't dumber because they didn't have cell-phones. The literature of the first century was not simplistic because they didn't sell it on Amazon. Back then there were plenty of really, really intelligent, sophisticated, clever, savvy, diligent, cultured thinkers and writers. We might have more information available to us today, but that doesn't make us superior. What they wrote ought to be respected, what they wrote still resonates with us today.

So don't give up on your attempts to read and understand the Scriptures. Respect the text, get inside the culture of the story, see it from the author's point of view. Don't assume you will get great insights every time you read any piece of Scripture. Some of it is easier to understand than others, sure; but some of it is complicated poetry with layers of meaning that have rich rewards for those willing to dig. If you want the truth, you'll have to work for it. The Scriptures reveal truth, and in working hard for it, you'll discover how much you really want it, and how valuable it really is.

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