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Better Bible Reading, Episode 1

So I’m starting a new video series, Better Bible Reading. It’s honest talk about the habit of reading the Bible, or trying to develop and maintain the habit. And I’ll post them here with transcript for people who prefer to read instead of watch. I welcome your feedback on everything from the content to the production quality. How can I make this series better?

Better Bible Reading, Episode 1

Try Not to Lose Your Faith

Derek Leman

[[SLIDE 1]] . . .
So you wish the Bible was a bigger part of your life. Let’s be honest.

You wish it was more inspiring. You wish you could figure it out. You wish it didn’t make you doubt your faith.

It’s just easier to read modern books or watch videos where a pastor or rabbi or priest explains what following God is all about.

But a lingering guilt is there. The Bible is supposed to be the source book. All those books and talking heads in the videos refer to it. They seem to mine the gold and silver from inside it.

But when you open it, you see a lot of plain rock and even mud and dirt.

You’ve tried reading it regularly and every time you failed to keep up the habit.

The Bible seems out of touch with what we’ve been told our faith is all about. It doesn’t match up well with what those pastors and rabbis and priests and authors tell us the life of faith in God is all about.

[[SLIDE 2]] . . .
You don’t want to lose your faith but . . .

. . . you do want to engage with the Bible every day.

We’ll talk about that. This series is for wannabe lovers of scripture. It’s for people who want to get beyond the impasse.

Now some of you might still be in a state of denial. “I don’t see the problem,” you say.

Well, let’s take a look . . .

You want verses like “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Instead you open the Bible and see things that are:

Downright troubling
Scary, depicting God as anything but kind or gracious
Confusing, making us scratch our heads
Boring and seemingly irrelevant to daily living out our faith

Troubling

[[SLIDE 3]] . . .
“Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’””
(1 Samuel 15:3 ESV)

Genocide? Killing babies?
This is in the Bible?

Just what you needed to fill your day with joy and inspiration!

Ungracious God

[[SLIDE 4]] . . .
“Behold, I am against you and will draw my sword from its sheath and will cut off from you both righteous and wicked.”
(Ezekiel 21:3 ESV)

This is pretty much the opposite of Jeremiah’s famous, “I know the plans I have for you” verse.

God is speaking to the Israelite community in Babylon. That’s right. This text is to the “chosen ones,” the “believers.”

And God says, “I am against you.”

Confusing

[[SLIDE 5]] . . .
“5 Then the king of the south shall be strong, but one of his princes shall be stronger than he and shall rule, and his authority shall be a great authority. 6 After some years they shall make an alliance, and the daughter of the king of the south . . .

[[SLIDE 6]]

shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement. But she shall not retain the strength of her arm, and he and his arm shall not endure, but she shall be given up, and her attendants, he who fathered her, and he who supported her in those times.”
(Daniel 11:5–6 ESV)

I used this one simply as an example. You’re trying to engage with the Bible to enhance your faith.

And more often than not you get something complicated. Something you can’t interpret without help.

And you can ask yourself, “Why was this text passed down to my generation? What did God have in this for me?”

And there are no easy answers.

Boring

[[SLIDE 7]] . . .
“21 Ten cubits was the length of a frame, and a cubit and a half the breadth of each frame. 22 Each frame had two tenons for fitting together. He did this for all the frames of the tabernacle. 23 The frames for the tabernacle he made thus: twenty frames for the south side. 24 And he made forty bases of silver under the twenty frames, two bases under one frame for its two tenons, and two bases under the next frame for its two tenons.”
(Exodus 36:21–24 ESV)

Okay then. In case you want to make a tabernacle model you have some instructions — which are pretty vague by the way.

But why is this in here? Why is so much space devoted to this topic? How does it communicate something to me and you about God?

Get More Out of the Bible

[[SLIDE 8]] . . .
There has to be a way to get more out of the Bible.

[[SLIDE 9]] . . .
The problems I have examined are not the whole picture, of course. They typify the reason, however, that many people give up on or never start reading the Bible in any meaningful sense.

If the Bible was always dreadful, even fewer people would read it!

There must be something good about the Bible that overcomes the difficulties. There has to be more to the story.

[[SLIDE 10]] . . .

The Bible Can Be Inspiring

[[SLIDE 11]] . . .
And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.

He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.

It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.

This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(from Isaiah 25, ESV)

Isaiah’s generation passed from optimism to despair. The proud and wealthy thought they were invulnerable.

Assyria destroyed every city in the land and besieged Jerusalem.

They became a despondent generation. Isaiah first worked to tear down their optimism. Then he gave them hope and a future.

They saw a lot of death. And death came near to the mountain, Mount Zion, the city of God’s promise.

But, Isaiah said, in the future, God would swallow up all this death.

[[SLIDE 12]] . . .

The Bible Can Be Ahead of Its Time

[[SLIDE 13]] . . .
Her hands take hold of the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hand to the needy. She is not afraid of the snow for her household, for all of her household are clothed with scarlet.
Her husband is well-known in the city gate when he sits with the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and honor, and she can laugh at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and loving instruction is on her tongue.
(Proverbs 31, JPS)

Sure, there’s plenty of misogyny in the Bible. Women are sometimes viewed as property.

But that’s not the only view.

Proverbs 31 is an ode to the value of women in society. It reflects an advanced view, one that is ahead of its time.

She gives worth and esteem to her husband instead of the other way around!

[[SLIDE 14]] . . .

The Bible Contains Sophisticated Realism

[[SLIDE 15]] . . .
Consider God’s doing! Who can straighten what He has twisted?

So in a time of good fortune enjoy the good fortune; and in a time of misfortune, reflect: The one no less than the other was God’s doing; consequently, man may find no fault with Him.

[[SLIDE 16]] . . .
In my own brief span of life, I have seen both these things: sometimes a good man perishes in spite of his goodness, and sometimes a wicked one endures in spite of his wickedness. So don’t overdo goodness and don’t act the wise man to excess, or you may be dumbfounded. Don’t overdo wickedness and don’t be a fool, or you may die before your time.

It is best that you grasp the one without letting go of the other, for one who fears God will do his duty by both.
(Ecclesiastes 7)

The Bible has a large share of overly optimistic piety.

Good things happen to the righteous. Bad things happen to the wicked.

But life is filled with exceptions to the point that we wonder if piety can be the rule at all.

In case you think the biblical authors were unaware of this, they were very much aware of it. It’s a frequent topic. And they were not always pious in the way they dealt with the subject.

Best of all is Ecclesiastes, or Kohelet in Hebrew. His book is a masterpiece of sophisticated realism. Some have even seen existentialism here.

[[SLIDE 17]] . . .

The Bible Can Be Poetically Exquisite

[[SLIDE 18]] . . .
We cannot argue because we are in darkness.
Is anything conveyed to Him when I speak? Can a man say anything when he is confused?
Now, then, one cannot see the sun, Though it be bright in the heavens, Until the wind comes and clears them of clouds. By the north wind the golden rays emerge; The splendor about God is awesome.
Shaddai — we cannot attain to Him; He is great in power and justice And abundant in righteousness; He does not torment. Therefore, men are in awe of Him Whom none of the wise can perceive.
(Job 37)

The human condition is a state of partial knowing. It has been compared to “seeing through a glass darkly.”

The Bible is full of poetry that brings alive the human situation, that expresses the sublime, conveys grandeur, awakens wonder, and fulls us with what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.”

Many readers of the Bible find that their senses are awakened. Their imaginations are stirred.

They begin to believe that the righteous really will be granted the desires of the heart.

The way from despair to hope comes to us in poetry, but also in the way the Bible expresses mystery.

[[SLIDE 19]] . . .

The Bible Expresses Mystery

[[SLIDE 20]] . . .
Where can wisdom be found; Where is the source of understanding?
No man can set a value on it; It cannot be found in the land of the living. The deep says, “It is not in me”; The sea says, “I do not have it.” It cannot be bartered for gold; Silver cannot be paid out as its price.
It is hidden from the eyes of all living, Concealed from the fowl of heaven. Abaddon and Death say, “We have only a report of it.”
God understands the way to it; He knows its source; For He sees to the ends of the earth, Observes all that is beneath the heavens.
(Job 28)

We can’t grasp Truth with a capital T. We understand the universe with analogies and with a point of view far from the divine center.

We see truth with a small t through these many analogies. The place God is, it’s far off to the west.

We get ever closer but we never arrive.

The Bible depicts this mystery for us. It beckons us to keep moving to the West. It acknowledges that we will never arrive.

God understands the way to it. He knows its source. We follow him and trust he is leading us in the right way.

[[SLIDE 21]] . . .

Finding a Better Way

What we have to do, if we want to get to this deeper level, is find a better way.

[[SLIDE 22]] . . .

Can the common Bible reader attain to this deeper understanding?

[[SLIDE 23]] . . .

That’s what this series will be about. How to read the Bible and not lose your faith.

How to read the Bible and find a reasonable perspective on what the text meant and what it means.

How to see the vertical and horizontal dimension of the Bible. That is, how to see something about the communities that wrote it and, at the same time, grasp why God planned for it to be passed down to our generation.

The Bible is human and divine. It consists of tradition and revelation. It’s writings had a human purpose that was unaware of a process of divine inspiration.

But God had something bigger in mind than the writers understood.

[[SLIDE 24]] . . .
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[[SLIDE 25]] . . .
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