I set out a few years ago to read the entire Bible. That’s right, everything from “In the beginning” to “Amen.” I have finally finished that quest, every single word. And before I try to explain just what it was that I read, I will invoke this passage from Psalms 119 verse 31:
“Lord, don’t let me make a mess of things.”
Since I am not a Biblical scholar, or any other type of scholar for that matter, I am really going out on a theological and philosophical limb here. But bear with me and let’s see if I can make sense of what I read.
There are numerous translations of the Bible. I read the Living Bible, a paraphrase. Being a paraphrase rather than a literal translation, it was easier to read than one such as the King James Version. The Living Bible uses more modern phrasing but provides footnotes throughout to provide additional clarification and in some cases the original wording.
It took a little over two years to read all of the Bible. This isn’t something you decide to do over a rainy weekend. This isn’t binge watching the Soprano’s. I began by reading two chapters a day, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. The New Testament is much shorter so when I finished it I simply started it again while I toiled on through Numbers, Deuteronomy, both Samuels, both Kings, both Chronicles. Ok, maybe I shouldn’t use the word toiled. But I do have to be honest. It was tough getting through certain parts of the Old Testament.
I admit skimming through the genealogical sections which outlined who begat who and who they begat after that. And my eyes tended to glaze over when reading the instructions for how many cubits this wall and that wall were to be for Solomon’s temple and various other structures that the Lord commanded to be built.
After finishing the New Testament a second time I decided to concentrate on the Old Testament and by then I was into the prophets who, in line with their titles, prophesied a lot. A good bit of that prophesy was of destruction brought down by a vengeful God. I can see where the old time fire and brimstone preachers got their sermons. But I also realized that each one of these books of prophesy contained the message that God would rather forgive us and have us reach out to him than rain down all that destruction upon us. Love and forgiveness. That is what really stuck with me from my trip through the Bible.
One more reference to an Old Testament prophet before moving on to the New Testament. There is a passage from the prophet Micah that is one of my favorites and not just because we share the same name. In the sixth chapter of Micah, the prophet is expounding on what it is that God wants from us and what we can do to win favor with God. The answer starting with verse 8 is: “to be fair and just and merciful, and to walk humbly with your God.” As far as being a template for how to live life, it is kind of hard to beat that one.
But if you need another template for life it is also hard to beat the teachings of Jesus. The New Testament is the story of Jesus and the beginning of Christianity. There are some confusing thoughts about Jesus. Some believe Jesus is the son of God and a separate entity from God. Others believe Jesus is God in human form and even more confusing, that Jesus is both. I don’t know and I’m not going to worry about it. I simple take it on faith what the New Testament says, that Jesus is The Way. It is simple to say, as many Christians do, that the way to get to Heaven is by accepting Jesus as your savior and asking to have your sins forgiven. And that brings up two questions. What it that way of Jesus and what exactly is Heaven?
The Bible isn’t real detailed about what Heaven is like. I tend to think of it as a state of being completely in the presence of God. How will that manifest itself? Will it be streets of gold and angels playing harps? Will it be ten mile runs on beautiful trails where no one gets tired and calorie free pizza and beer is in endless supply at the end? I have no idea what it will be. I just trust that it will be more wonderful than we can ever imagine. And Hell? I guess that would be the opposite. An existence totally devoid of the presence of God and all that such an existence would imply.
So, how do you get to Heaven? The Gospel of John says that Jesus is the Way.
The first four books of the New Testament are known as the Gospels. They are the accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus. I have read the Gospels several times and paid particular attention to what Jesus says. Some people may read it and come away with different interpretations than me and that is one of the peculiar things about the Bible. You and I and the lady on the next barstool can all read the same passage and come up with different interpretations. But to me there are three main points that Jesus makes in his teachings.
Point one is love. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he said that it is to love God with all your heart and soul, but he continues on to point out that the second greatest commandment is to love others as yourself. Jesus considered the second commandment to be so important that he presented it without being asked for it. He also went on to say that by simply obeying these two commandments a person would satisfy all the others.
Point two is forgiveness. Jesus was asked if we should forgive those who sin against us seven times. Jesus said to forgive seven times seventy. Now, that does not mean that you don’t have to forgive on the 491st time. Jesus was making the point that you forgive an endless number of times. It should also be pointed out that in the Lord’s prayer that Jesus taught us, there is the line where we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. In other words we are asking God to forgive us only to the same extent as we are willing to forgive others. Wow, think about the implications.
Point three is judgement. Jesus was not too keen on hypocrites and those who are quick to judge. It pains me to admit that this may be the one area where most Christians come up short. Consider the passage where Jesus cautions us to remove the log from our own eye before we help our brother remove the speck from his. Or the story of the woman about to be stoned to death and Jesus responding to her accusers by saying the one without sin should cast the first stone. No stones were cast and Jesus declined to judge the woman. In stead, he forgave her sins and told her to sin no more. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should not hold ourselves and others accountable for bad actions. But it seems to me that our judgements should be guided with love and forgiveness.
Those are my quick and short impressions from reading the entire Bible. I will continue to read it and try to gain additional insight and understanding. But what about those things that many people assume are in the Bible but actually, are not?
One of the first ones that comes to mind is the saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” Nope, that one is not in the Bible. In fact, most scripture supports the idea that God helps those who cannot help themselves. Those whose burdens have become so heavy that the only way to deal with them is by reaching out to God for help.
Another one that is not actually in the Bible is, “God won’t give you more that you can handle.” Now, I don’t necessarily believe that God goes around handing out burdens. Regular everyday life does a pretty good job of doing that and sometimes the ones we get are, in fact, more than we can handle. So just like in the example above, we get to that point where we can’t help ourselves and can’t deal with our own burdens. That is when we reach out to God.
How about “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”? There are certainly references to the cleansing of our sins in the Bible but that quote is not there. Actually, that saying has been attributed to both Francis Bacon and John Wesley.
We have all heard the expression, “Hate the sin but love the sinner”. I happen to think that is a good sentiment but it isn’t in the Bible in those specific words. Jude chapter 1 (actually Jude only has one chapter) verse 23 says, “Hate every trace of their sin while being merciful to them as sinners.” I guess that one is close enough if you don’t quibble too much on the translation.
Also in the same category is “Money is the root of all evil”. 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the first step toward all kinds of sin”. Again, close enough if you aren’t looking for an exact translation.
There are more examples out there of things that are not in the Bible even though we assume they are. But the Bible does, without a doubt, say some very basic things that we should never forget.
We should love others as ourselves. There are no exceptions to that by the way. We should forgive others that have done us wrong no matter how hard it is to do so. And finally, we should go easy on the judgements we lay on people. We never know what is going on in someone’s life. So give them the benefit of the doubt.