An Epic Saga of Bible Reading

Do you have any big plans for the new year?

I do.

I plan on getting chewed up and spit out by the Bible.

Again.

Don’t get me wrong–I love the Bible.  LOVE it.  This year, I have had some amazingly profitable Bible studies.  I read through the New Testament this summer and found it to be incredibly inspiring and enlightening.  I also studied Hosea in August, and really got caught up in the story of God’s passion for His people.  In the fall, when my family was going through a tumultuous time, I immersed myself in Philippians, and it kept me spiritually afloat (mixed metaphors, anyone?).  Right now, I’m going through a Beth Moore study on James with my best friend, and good ol’ James has been predictably hard-hitting and motivating.

But there is something about reading through the whole Bible that completely confuses and disorients me.  Recently, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary had a post on her experiences with reading through the Bible, and I was laughing out loud at her description of all the ickiness that goes on in the Old Testament.  I think it was just refreshing to hear someone else articulate the feeling.  Besides all the raping and slaughter and such, the Old Testament is also disorienting because it comes to us in 39 books, and I know precious little about their backgrounds.  By this time in my faith, I’m pretty familiar with the structure and background of the New Testament.  But the Old is a whole ‘nother story.  The books aren’t arranged chronologically, and sometimes even the content of the books isn’t arranged chronologically (see:  Jeremiah); they come in a variety of genres, each requiring its own set of interpretive tools; and often when you start a new book, you are thrown into a historical setting about which you have NO information.  It’s not uncommon to begin a book of prophecy and have no idea who is talking to whom, and at what time, and in what set of circumstances.  I do use several books on the Bible as I study, such as introductions and commentaries, but even then, it’s often hard to get my bearings and to put myself in such a foreign context.

So that’s some of the stuff that makes the Old Testament (and sometimes the New Testament) hard to understand.  But as Mark Twain said, “It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”  And I from the other quotes on the Bible I read by Twain while searching for the correct wording for that one, I think I partially mean it the way he does.  Yes, I understand Jesus’ plain words about loving our enemies, and that bothers me, because I know I must follow them.  But I also understand the story of Nadab and Abihu, and that bothers me because I can’t get how God would do that to them.  And I understand the story of Jehu, and that bothers me because I don’t know why God would use such a brutal murderer.  I understand the story of the Israelites taking over Canaan, and that bothers me because of all the genocide involved.  I understand David’s words about wanting someone to dash his enemies’ babies against the rocks, and that bothers me because I am generally against dashing infants.  And so forth.  

Now, believe me, I have sought and received several different answers to the questions that bother me, and have received much wise counsel from people much more educated and further along in their spirituality than I.  I have also spilled a considerable amount of ink and an even larger amount of pixels trying to sort out these issues myself.  And most importantly, I have prayed to God for guidance repeatedly while reading Scripture, and His Spirit has helped me in the process of discernment.  But the end result is generally the same:  by the time I limp through reading the whole Bible in a year, I am spiritually beat up, disheveled, and disoriented. I’ve only done it twice, though, and the second time was much better than the first time.  So I have even higher hopes for the third time.

Now, you may be thinking, Why do it, if it is so challenging to your faith?

I have asked myself the same thing, after each time I’ve finished.  The first time, I honestly thought I would never try to read the whole Bible again.  I finished it at the end of 2006, and I had read it in isolation, never getting to compare notes with other readers.  The sad part was that there was a year-long Sunday school class at church that was reading the same one year Bible that I was, and they met to discuss it each week.  But I was already scheduled to teach for most of the quarters of the year, and so I didn’t get to attend.  I would often pass that class on the way to the one I was teaching, and wish so badly that I could go in and just ask, “Okay, was anyone else completely weirded out by this week’s reading?”  But there was another part of me that thought I might get kicked out of church if I asked the questions that were rattling around in my head.

And so it was that I put the Bible away with a sigh of relief the end of that year.  I decided to spend 2007 just reading the psalms, a book which, baby-head-bashing aside, is like chicken noodle soup for the questioning soul.  I took heart from David’s honesty, from his unwillingness to pretend that his faith was perfect or that he had all the right answers.  I appreciated his rawness, his seeking, his frustration and sadness, intermixed with his joy.  My faith rebounded, and I went on to study the Bible piece-meal for a few more years.

And then in 2010, I decided to try again.  Why?  Because I wanted to know God.  Reading the whole Bible had given me a jolting wake-up call that God was very different than I was.  I tend to unconsciously make God in my own image, which is a form of idolatry.  The best antidote to that self-delusion, I found, is the strong elixir of the whole Bible.  It provides a shock to my system that forces me to acknowledge how different God is from my conceptions of Him.  And since I want to know who God really is, and not just who I want Him to be, I confess that the battering of the whole Bible has become somewhat addictive to me.

Also, I believe that the Truth is strong.  I believe that it–no, that He–can handle our questions, our confusion, our honesty.  I have faith in an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present God.  And because of that, I know He is more than a match for the struggles of my limited intellect.  Armed with that faith, I began again in 2010.

My reading in 2010 was much better, for two reasons:  1) I took the time to process my thoughts through typing them out in an ongoing Bible blog, which helped immensely, and 2) I read through it with several different Christians (and one atheist!) who chimed in with their two cents.  Reading it this way proved to me that the Bible is meant to be read and interpreted in community.  I was still worn out by the time I crossed the finish line, but even then, I knew I was going to do it again in a year.

And now we are here:  2012.  Time to start again.  I’m going to use the same Bible I did in 2010:  The One Year Bible.  That way, I can refer to my blog to laugh at get insight from my old thoughts, as well as the thoughts of others.  It will also be interesting to see where my interpretations and responses have changed.  As I start, I want to formally invite anyone to join me who so desires.  And I also want to say this to anyone who needs to hear it:  I know it’s hard to read the Bible sometimes.  And I know it’s even harder to understand parts of it.  I know that while it is amazing and uplifting and life-changing and inspirational, it can also be confusing and disorienting.  I know that.  So if you ever read the Bible and come away feeling further from God instead of closer to Him, please know that there is someone who understands those feelings.  When I felt that way, I often wondered if I was the only one.  Maybe I was:).  But if you have ever felt like that, or ever feel that way in the future, please know that you are not alone.  And if you are ever confused or uncertain about something you read in the Bible, and you just want to talk to someone about it, I will talk to you.  I can almost guarantee you that I won’t have hard and fast answers for you, but I will jump in there with you and work through it.  One way to get my attention is to leave a comment on either this blog or the Bible blog.  Even when I am not actively referring to the Bible blog (as I will be in 2012), I still get email updates whenever someone leaves a comment.  I will go so far as to guarantee that if you leave a comment on the Bible blog about Scripture, I will respond to you.  As one who is extremely indebted to those who have responded to ME when I’ve been lost and confused, I would be remiss not to pass on that blessing (albeit with a lot less wisdom and insight).

So those are my Bible reading plans for 2012.  I also have bought or plan to buy a few books that I think will help with journey…in addition, of course, to the faithful references and commentaries that I have already accrued.

Wish me luck…and feel free to join me!

Have you ever read the whole Bible?  How did you take it?

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16 responses to this post.

  1. i get ya, i do!!! the WHOLE Bible?? really??? it’s like getting a syllabus, lol! it’s daunting and completely overwhelming to me. i have done it, but that doesn’t mean i *got* it. and yes, i do feel stressed out…over what i AM doing and what i am NOT doing and what i don’t seem to understand. and yet i feel like God expects me to *get* it, i mean, He gave it to us for a reason, right?? whew…

    i am trying to go through matthew and then the other gospels. i am wanting to know and understand who Jesus is and what He really came to do and what He charged US with when He left. and i am reading “beautiful outlaw” by john eldredge too. that’s where i’m starting the new year for now.

    Reply

  2. I’m thinking of joining you. Maybe. Maybe just NT? As you know, I’ve gone completely through +/- 10 times, plus numerous partials. Probably 15+ on NT and Psalms Same address as before for the Bible Blog?

    BTW–little funny. I just sent Ann a FB message from 6 feet away as we both were online. She said, “I wasn’t really on facebook–I’m reading Kim’s post on Bible reading.” Which is exactly what I was doing, too! Great minds.

    Totall unrelated–I was going to send you this link later, but so long as I’m here, I’ll just paste it in.

    http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2011/12/28/yule-blog-2011-2012-the-hinge-of-fate/

    Reply

  3. Posted by kevin gardner on December 28, 2011 at 9:37 am

    hey kim are you reading the version of the one year bible that does some OT, NT, psalms each day? i have started that probably 3 times but never made it much past the pentateuch. (i think thats the correct spelling, ha) anyway we have that bible in NIV and maybe NKJV. i may try it along with you. i have a 31 day method of reading the NT through and have done that a few times. it is really fast so you dont really “learn” a lot, but it helps in big picture and is a great reminder of where things are found in the NT. anyway, hope you guys had a great Christmas and a happy new year!!!

    kevin g.

    Reply

    • Yes, that’s the one I’m using, Mr. Gardner. I’d love it if you joined me! As for reading through the NT in 30 days, I’ve heard similar things about the 90-day plan to read the whole Bible: it’s not good for deep study at all, but it really gives you a good perspective of the “big picture.” In fact, the 90-plan was my original intent for 2012. As someone who has found myself completely lost as to the “big picture” by the time I get to the prophets, I think that such a perspective would be really helpful. But since I’m starting a part-time job for the first time in January, I was worried that it would be a bad time to also start such a time consuming undertaking. Perhaps next year!

      Reply

  4. Posted by Glenda on December 28, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I’m just 3 days away from finishing reading through the Bible using your 2010 Bible Blog. It has been such a blessing. I looked forward to finishing my reading each day so I could check your blog and see your comments.

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    • Thanks, Glenda! I’m so happy to know that you made it through the Bible AND that you enjoyed the blog. That really means a lot to me! Maybe one year we can read it through together!

      Reply

  5. Yay, I’m glad you’re going to read through it again. I’ll be interested to see what thoughts roll out of your brain because of it. 🙂 I may check back on the 365 blog from time to time, though I haven’t yet figured out what I want to do for my formal Bible study. (I am pretty sure we brought at least one One-Year Bible with us, but I’m not exactly sure where it is.)

    I know I’m incredibly late (based on the fact that you, Ann, and Larry already finished this class), but I am still trying to get through “Mere Christianity.” I am glad I waited to finish it, actually, because it has been very timely right now. It has been helping me to reconcile some of the “opposites,” like you mentioned, that come up while trying to understand the whole of God. Once I finish it, I am thinking of seeking out something else by C.S. Lewis. Any thoughts on what would be good? (Larry, Ann, feel free to jump in on this too.)

    Reply

    • Yeah, Becky, I wouldn’t be surprised if random posts start popping up here in 2012 regarding Levitical purity laws or random figures in the OT. What can I say? I have a need to process my thoughts through writing–sometimes to an obnoxious degree:).

      As for Lewis, everyone I know adores The Great Divorce, although I didn’t get very far past the guy with the lizard on his head. I don’t know why the book lost me, as much as I love metaphors. Maybe I should try it again. It’s been years. I personally love The Screwtape Letters, and view it as a must-read for anyone who is interested in Lewis. As seminal as Mere Christianity is, I actually think I remember more specifics from Screwtape. Maybe it was the demon narrator, but the messages were very vivid to me.

      Reply

    • If you’re new to Lewis, I’d go with MC, then Screwtape, and then the Great divorce. There are plenty of other good ones (I like Miracles, Letters to Malcolm, and Reflections on the Psalms, and even his spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy). But those first three are best-known and use the widest lens.

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  6. Hmmm, I know Screwtape is supposed to be good, and I have heard a clip of the audio book, which was interesting, but I don’t know if I want to focus my thoughts so much on Satan right now. (Or, maybe I’m not right in my thinking… My understanding is that it gives a picture of how Satan works through the perspective of someone who works for him.) So, maybe I’ll do The Great Divorce (even though that talks about Heaven, Hell and, I would assume, Satan too, right?). I’m in more “big picture” mode right now and have been enjoying that aspect of MC.

    I still need to figure out what to do for my Bible reading. Our team started a Sunday morning study of Acts, but I think that may not continue because of schedule changes. I’m still trying to work out what my routine here needs to be (and I probably won’t really get that established until we get in our house, which could still be a month). If I am able to snag The Great Divorce and hopefully also The Tangible Kingdom (this is all assuming that someone will be coming this way at some point and can bring them to me), what would be a good book of the Bible to read along with them? (Or before them, if it takes a while to get my books?) Also, if I’m going to have someone do a book run anyway, is there any other must-read I should throw in there?

    If things go as I hope they will, once we get in our house I would really like to start a small group Bible study with some of our friends from the mission and also (hopefully) some of our new neighbors. My thought is to start out with the book of John. (But this probably won’t be for a few months, dang it. Can you tell I’m really anxious to get in my house?) 🙂

    (Sorry, Kim, to hijack your comments. It’s just that everyone I want to talk to is already reading this.) 🙂

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  7. Screwtape isn’t really about Satan, it’s a “how to” book on recognizing and resisting temptation, with a cool literary twist. In a way, so is The Great Divorce, with a different twist.

    As for a book run, what you really ought to look into is getting a Kindle or Nook. Then you can make a book run anytime you have wi-fi. I’ve been amazed how much I’ve enjoyed having mine. And lots of older books are free, or nearly so. If you pop over to my blog, you can get a look at what I’ve already downloaded–and the only one that cost over $3 was Dave Ramsey’s new book.

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  8. Tommy is able to get Kindle stuff on his computer, but I actually prefer to get real books. Sometimes it is really refreshing to be able to use objects that don’t depend on technology to work. And, you know, now that I am thinking about it, I want to say that I picked up Screwtape at a thrift store before we left. If I can track it down, it can tide me over until I am able to get The Great Divorce. 🙂 I seem to remember it being really small.

    Also, I saw your list on your blog. I was wondering what Dave Ramsey book that was. I hadn’t heard of it before. Is it still a money thing?

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  9. Knock knock ..I do NOT want to interrupt this wonderful conversation that is somewhat over my head, since I have only briefly read a couple of the any of the books you mentioned BUT …as the bible reading thing …;)

    I have ready through the bible a few times in the past 15 or so years. I have enjoyed each time, but have really benefited more from a deeper dig most recently. I love reading the bible as a whole as a “bigger picture” perspective – since it seems to really be confusing on a “pick it apart” basis.

    Now, I will readily admit that i am not as naturally inclined to need to understand each detail as some others are (cough*Kim*cough) ..so my reading through may be missing something because of it. I really enjoy seeing the over-arching movement of God through history and the commonalitites as well as the differences in how he presents himself in both the OT and the NT.

    This year, I want to keep digging. That is my thought for now. Not that I wont’ be going through it indirectly through your doing it 😉

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  10. I love this line, Kim: “And since I want to know who God really is, and not just who I want Him to be, I confess that the battering of the whole Bible has become somewhat addictive to me.” Absolutely! I think it’s because we have in us Jesus (who is the Word) and the Holy Spirit (who is the Spirit of truth), that we are drawn to study God’s true word given us in the Bible.

    As for reading throught the Bible and how I’ve taken it, I’m like you; parts of it are very hard to understand. Still, I take comfort from passages like these:

    Mark 9:31-32 – He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. Jesus’ own disciples did not get it when he was talking directly to them. Of course, they did not yet have the Holy Spirit in them, which brings me to the next passage.

    John 16:13 – “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Jesus promises we will have help, the help of God himself who lives in us. But we will still find some things hard to understand apparently, according to the next passage

    2 Peter 3:16 – [Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Peter himself told his students that Scripture can be a tough row to hoe. But this next verse assures us that complete understanding will come eventually.

    1 Corinthians 13:12 – Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. You just knew I was going to get to this one eventually, weren’t you?

    It’s kind of a wordy answer to your questions, but you really got me thinking Kim. I thank you for that!

    Tim

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    • Tim, I love all those verses, and they are all great reminders that God understands our plight when it comes to comprehending His written word. (I almost wrote “His Word,” I’ve been reminded lately that the Word of God is Christ:)). I especially love 1 Corinthians 13:12. In verse 11, what the NIV calls “a poor reflection as in a mirror,” the KJV calls “through a glass darkly.” We see through a glass darkly. I love that phrase…and I completely relate to it!

      Reply

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