In high school my least favorite class was Literature. There always seemed to be some classic piece of literature I didn’t want to read like Ethan Frome or Great Expectations. We didn’t get to read much of the “fun” stuff like Jurassic Park or Chronicles of Narnia. But more than the boring reading we were required to do, my English teacher was always trying to get us to find the symbolism and meaning behind everything, breaking down the characters. We’d have to identify the antagonist, protagonist, setting, conflict, climax, and resolution; then work in the symbolism on why the author created such a tale as he or she did. It was supposed to help us understand the characters and plot, therefore enjoying and appreciating the book more. And I hated it. I just wanted to read the story.
The problem with that is I don’t read too many books more than once. Once I know the story, I’m good. But I can appreciate those who do as I will watch a movie over and over again. And as I watch the movie repeatedly for pure enjoyment sake, I inevitably gain new insights and pick up subtleties about the characters, themes, and plot. So this year I’ve challenged myself to read the Bible again. This time however, not as a textbook outlining dogma, but as a story. Or more appropriately; an epic saga. Why you might ask?
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” – William Shakespeare
For quite a while I have toyed with going back to seminary simply for the ability to learn more about religion, faith, and God. I read a book like Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell, and am blown away by the insights and knowledge I gain. I want to know more about God, understanding the intricacies of the being whom I choose to worship and guide my life. And while talking with one of our pastors a few weeks ago about my plans for the youth group in 2013, the topic of what I was looking for in my spiritual growth came up. As I began to explain what I was doing, he stopped me and told me I needed a book. Epic by John Eldridge. By the time I got home that night, he had dropped it off for me. The book is less than 100 pages and I dog-eared half of them, re-reading them over and over. John Eldridge summarized my inner longing, setting the stage for 2013’s Resolution. In it he outlines all of existence as a story. But not my story, the story of God. God’s epic being told from before time all the way through eternity. He lays out the plot and my place as a player on the grandest of stages.
Within that story comes the answer to the question behind every thought and action; “Why”. Why do we love? Why do we hate? Why am I the way I am? Why do I exist? Why do people act the way they do? Why does God do what He does? And I can’t begin to answer those questions without knowing the story and main character anymore than I can explain why Frodo goes to Mordor having never read (or watched) The Lord of the Rings.
See unlike Literature class, Bible class and Pastors attempt to do the what Literature teachers do, but incompletely. Study the story, break down the characters, understand the unspoken reasoning of God, and apply it to our modern lives. The only problem is that we do it backwards. We take the meaning or plot we want to discuss (Grace for example), then find a way to use individual chapters of the story to explain it. Like writing a term paper, we find a quote that works and use it. Never explaining the context and intent of the original author. We pick and choose the verses or stories we focus on from the Bible and inevitably miss the bigger picture. We rarely take the time to read the Bible for an appreciation of the story of God. We make the story all about us, about what God wants us as individuals to do. We never stop to understand what God is doing.
No wonder so many people get disillusioned with church. How would you like going to film class and discussing Lawrence of Arabia, yet never watching the film? We tell people about the main character, but spent the rest of the time on the supporting cast. They don’t know who and what they are supposed to believe in because we haven’t told them. We go door to door providing “Bible Study”, but it’s more of a discussion of topics than it is a book club. How many of us know more than what the outline the pastor gives us says? How many of us truly know the story? How many of us actually want to?