Last January I made a new-years resolution to read the entire bible cover to cover in one year. I was prompted to do so by reading a book called Radical by David Platt. Truth be told I didn't find its message very radical. He raises the question "What if we actually followed what Jesus said?" to which I say "Great! Let's talk about giving all our money to the poor and forgiving our debtors!" But no, he mostly meant trying to convert people, which is not a very radical message at all. On the contrary. I've heard that one quite a bit before.
But what did snag my attention was one of his action items to a more radical life: read every word of the bible in a year. He asks the question "How could your life NOT be changed by reading every word of God's word?"
How could it not? I'll SHOW you how! Once such a gauntlet was thrown I had a hard time refusing the challenge.
I felt like I had already read a lot of the bible before. Growing up I attended Hebrew school three times a week, so I felt pretty comfortable with my knowledge of the Genesis stories. I knew the highlights of Exodus: what we learn from Passover and then from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream coat. I knew of the kings Saul, David, and Solomon, their rises to power and the major sins that brought them down (or, whatever, didn't. Biblical history isn't as moralizing as we'd like it to be.) I felt like if you've read three psalms you've read em all. The first three Gospels were things I read recently. The letters I've studied on Wednesday nights.
Revelation was something I never intended to read.
The bible has a lot of words in it, some of them interesting. Some of them are numbers, like in the book of Numbers. I read every single number printed in numbers, though I can't say I got anything out of it other than some sort of bizarre pride in my resolute follow-through. I also didn't get much from reading the endless genealogies either, though because I was pregnant during 4 months of this project I did cast about for baby names during the process. (We were set on Zion even before the pregnancy, which was good since I failed to convince Dan that Jubilee was the best female alternative.)
I read the books of the bible in the order in which they appear, because I wanted to read the bible I'm used to and I didn't want to have a study guide or some such thing to lose somewhere and waylay the project. There was only one point when I thought I would never make it through, and that's when I hit the psalms. Leviticus I liked and Numbers I plowed through the way one ploddingly attacks the middle of a marathon, but the psalms just made me want to hit my head against a wall. There's no narrative flow, often not even within a psalm, and they're all so much the same I found it impossible to keep my place from one day to the next. In the end I skipped the book of psalms and went back to finish it last after reading everything else. I innovated my approach by using a tiny stick-it to mark the next psalm I had to read next; that way I could immediately tell where I had to start and prevent the infuriating suspicion that I had read a single psalm twice.
If I had ever had the urge to tell someone "the bible says" before, it is completely gone from me now.
The bible is a very long book which says a very many things, some of which are contradictory. If I were to pick a single commandment-type theme that runs through the bible, it would be this:
DON'T WORSHIP OTHER GODS.
God seems to be pretty set on this point. Don't bow down to idols, stop making idols, seriously you guys stop worshiping idols. By volume, I'd have to wager that this is the most repeated command in the whole bible. Other than that, I'd say the meaning of the commandments are up for discussion.
There are a lot of different books in the bible. They were written by different people. Ezekiel and Revelations were apparently written by paranoid schizophrenics. Some letters ring truer than others. As Shane Claiborne puts it: that's why God invented highlighters.
What's the worst thing in the bible?
A while ago Dan posed the question: What is the worst thing in the bible? I thought of that a bit while reading through the thing, and I've come up with two answers. The most heart-wrenching moment in the bible, for me, is when Abraham sends Hagar into the desert with toddler Ishmael.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, "I cannot watch the boy die."
A week into January I thought: I can't go on. Genesis is too real.
Granted, there are plenty of references later on to women eating their babies or dashing them] against walls, but they're written rather impersonally so we don't feel connected to the characters.
But God ends up saving Hagar and Ishmael, so I think the worst thing in the bible is the list of curses at the end of Deuteronomy which warns what will happen if we don't follow God's law:
You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life. In the morning you will say, "If only it were evening!" and in the evening, "If only it were morning!" — because of the terror that will fill your hearts and the sights that your eyes will see. The Lord will send you back in ships to Egypt on a journey I said you should never make again. There you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and females slaves, BUT NO ONE WILL BUY YOU.
(Deuteronomy 28:66-68) (emphasis mine. Isn't that horrible?)
Since I finished in October, I can honestly say that reading the entire bible in a year is not hard. I hope to do it again next year, although I think I'm gonna put in for a different translation on my Christmas list. Sometimes in church we read psalms from "The Message" translation and they seem a whole lot more accessible.
Meanwhile, I have the next two months to work on some other end-of-year goals. Like the Christmas presents. Oh God the Christmas presents.