I made it to the sunset dinner on time, thanks to the host’s clear directions. But when I exited the beautiful house in the woods the setting had turned to shadowland. Driving was now more difficult.
I couldn’t see landmarks, and it was turtle pace around the curves. Headlights illuminated only an occasional moth. Where were those city lights that would be my compass home? Anxiety grew as each turn revealed another dark country road. Was I traveling in circles? This was back in the days of limited cell phone service and no GPS. Also, I hadn’t brought a map. Finally, the last turn revealed the halo of distant Cincinnati.
In hindsight, I was never too far off the mark, but at the time, it made little difference. Lost is lost if you can’t get out of the shadowland to find your way home again.
The Greatest Book in All the Land
This experience of lostness occasionally comes to mind when I neglect the greatest book in all the land. According to Guinness World Records, this bestseller has sold more than five billion copies. We used to call it the “Holy Bible,” then “Bible,” and now bible. As my culture discards the Bible’s importance, can I afford to neglect God’s word without experiencing loss? Do I sometimes forget there is a spiritual warfare out there, and the trail is littered with enemies? “Scripture” is called a sword for a very good reason.
Jesus uses another metaphor for the words of God. He states: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, NIV). Did you catch that? EVERY word.
We never become Bible experts. We are always the students. The Holy Bible is too alive and active for us to capture it in total. Instead, it captivates and captures us. My 86-year-old-friend Bill Petersen knows this. He still leads a Bible study of 12 men, who meet each Saturday and learn new truths. Occasionally, Bill will share a Bible thought I have never heard anywhere else. This wise octogenarian is still learning.
Persevere for Treasure
Scripture is also referred to as a great treasure. So why do people say, “I tried reading the Bible, and I just can’t get into it.” Perhaps their excuse is like hitting a golf ball a few times and then declaring the game is impossible to achieve. Successful learning requires practice and motivation.
Some good news is that we are not alone in our attempts to understand the Bible. The Holy Spirit, a.k.a. Counselor, does his part to teach us. Our little prayers of faith make a difference. The Psalmist’s prayer is, “Open my eyes that I might behold wonderful things from your law.” If individual study is too much of a hurdle, finding a mentor or joining a group study is worth the effort. We humbly learn together. But a plea: don’t give up if one group fails. Find another. Perseverance brings results.
Stay Close to the Mirror, Then Act
Recently, someone close to me said our current times are like Sodom and Gomorrah. Then he said, “Just like in those days, there are a lot of good people and there are a lot of bad people. That doesn’t change.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I think you need to reread the story.” My friend illustrates another reason we neglect the Bible: we think we know it well, because of exposure to childhood Bible stories. The Bible has a warning for this kind of thinking: “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:23-25, ESV).
Often times, our forgetfulness is not desperation. We deceive ourselves into believing we manage quite well without God’s words, thank you very much. But then when desperation comes, we find ourselves scratching the scriptures in an irrational way that roils our ability to be honest with self and God. We have forgotten our sword and are ill-equipped.
Shadowland without the Bible?
While thinking about the Bible’s place or lack of it in my life and culture, I came across theologian Frederick Buechner’s paraphrase of Amos 8:1-12, initially published in his Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words. His paraphrase makes me wonder, “What would life be like without any words from God?” Here is Buechner, who just celebrated his 90th birthday.
“When the prophet Amos walked down the main drag, it was like a shoot-out in the Old West. Everybody ran for cover. His special target was The Beautiful People, and shooting from the hip, he never missed his mark. He pictures them sleek and tanned at Palm Beach, Acapulco, St. Tropez. They glisten with Bain de Soleil. The stereo is piped out over the marble terrace. Another tray of Bloody Marys is on the way.
“A vacationing bishop plunges into the heated pool. With one eye
cocked on them, he has his other cocked on the Unbeautiful People-the varicose veins of the old waiter, the pasty face of the starch-fed child, the Indian winos passed out on the railroad siding, the ragged woman fumbling for food stamps at the check-out counter. When justice is finally done, Amos says, there will be Hell to pay. The Happy Hour will be postponed indefinitely because the sun will never make it over the yard-arm. The Pucci blouses, the tangerine colored slacks, the flowered Lillys, will all fade like grass. Nothing but a few chicken bones will mark the place where once the cold buffet was spread out under the royal palms.
But according to Amos, it won’t be the shortage of food and fun that will hurt. It will be the shortage ‘of hearing the words of the Lord’ (Amos 8:11). Towards the end, God will make himself so scarce that the world won’t even know what it’s starving to death for.”
Find Frederick Buechner’s work at: http://www.frederickbuechner.com