My Relationship With the Holy Bible
I am 25 years old and I've spent more than half of my life feeling excluded from the Bible. I've had times relating to this book out of obligation or (at best) curiosity, and only in the last few years has it been out of appreciation and hunger. I want to write here about how I got from A to B, but most of all about how much I love the Bible and how I want you to, too.
I think Christianity presented me with the tension of communicating how important our holy book is (The Bible) without showing me how to read or study it properly. So you've got a teenager growing in zeal for God and being challenged at youth festivals to read the Bible in a year, and then you've got this book (or rather annal of books) that is in parts 3400 years old. That combination doesn't quite work. You see, the Bible is a collection of 66 books written in far off centuries, in a continent that isn't my own, about a culture that isn't my own and, to top it off, the books aren't ordered according to when they happened in history. So what this did for me was made me feel excluded from the Bible. It seemed the biggest jumble of stories that were hidden on thin pages with tiny numbers to help me find them. To appease this pressure to use the Bible and somehow allow it to change my life, I read it in the only way I knew how and that was by taking the stories and thinking about how they apply to today. I put myself in the shoes of Biblical characters and their verses became verses that were too about me, or that encouraged me. If you've read the Bible, you'll know that this only takes you so far and at a point you just have to ignore a vast array of chapters that 1. aren't encouraging or 2. don't seem to be about me.
I started to feel unsatisfied with my Bible study after hearing preachers talk about the historical context of some Biblical stories. They'd share about the dusty landscape of the ancient near east and how humbling it would be for Jesus, a Rabbi, to wash the dust off His disciple's feet - the job of a slave. I'd hear these nuggets of information (historical background) that would completely unlock a story and not only make the events seem far more significant, but they'd become more interesting to me too. I was introduced to a depth of the Bible that my own study wasn't taking me to, and I wanted it. I remember being curious as to who was telling the preachers about these ancient cultural quirks - where were they getting their information from? After a while of hearing people in authoritative roles over me seeming to know Scripture well, I began to assume that the Bible was a book for the religious elite; for the ministers and the theologians and the Church-going parents. If you know me at all, you'll understand that this annoyed me and produced a defiance in me to want to be the exception. I wanted to know the Bible myself, not wait for the crumbs of a minister's personal study to filter down to me.
And so, eventually that zeal took me to Hawaii in 2011 to join a Bible school that promised to teach me how to study the book myself. I spent 9 months reading through the Bible about 4-6 times (they reckon), but beyond that being shown how to find historical background myself, how to pay attention to key details in stories, how to ask questions and how to answer them with my own interpretations. That school changed my life. It taught me that the Bible isn't exclusive to the Christian elite and it corrected me that the Biblical stories aren't actually about me. I learnt about how God's plan to redeem mankind weaves its way throughout the 66 books, and how Jesus dying on the cross is the climax of this, but not the whole story. My own theology started to be shaped as I began to trade in dusty Christian cliques (that were handed to me in Sunday school) with a firmer grasp on truth. I noticed I was becoming better at being able to defend and explain what I believed, because I could refer to stories throughout Biblical history that spoke so much louder than my small batch of experiences.
I want to end with saying that I was wrong: the Bible isn't exclusive to the religious elite. Frankly, it isn't even exclusive to the Christians. It's there, waiting to be studied and heard and prioritised and understood and enjoyed. It is holy and historical and rich and, I'm convinced, the most satisfying book to study. It can hold up to your questions (or accusations) and studying it well will be one of the best uses of your time. If you identify with feeling locked out of the Bible, don't let your weariness cause you to give up. In my experience, nurturing a defiant hunger to know Scripture eventually led me to study it for myself and I'm passionate now to see other people realise it's there for them too.