At the beginning of the year I challenged people to join me in daily Bible reading, specifically reading the Bible in a year. I am here, halfway through the year, to admit I’m behind. And it’s for the strangest reason. I’m behind because I’ve been reading the books of Samuel and Kings, and it’s been depressing me.
Part of this is that I’m a writer. I love stories. But I get too involved in my imaginary tales, and I can’t handle writing anything but a happy ending. (Yep, that’s a spoiler for my entire book list. Sorry. Or, if you’re like me, you’re welcome.) I love it when everything works out well. Wounds are healed, love conquers all, and there’s a good deal of joyful walking off into the sunset.
But you know what? The Old Testament has some seriously unhappy endings. David’s prayer over the loss of his dear friend Jonathan. Solomon’s disappointing turn from being a wise man of God to a man who helps his wives build idols. Everyone’s children. Samuel, Eli, David, Solomon–nobody turned out good kids. Depresses me to death. If all these great men of God are parenting failures, what hope do I have?
Years and years of Israel turning away and turning away and turning away. I watch the building of the tabernacle, the building of the temple, all the people promising to follow God, all the celebrations, and then two pages later they’ve forgotten every word and are sacrificing their children to evil gods. The temple is destroyed, cities fall, and people wander into darkness.
It makes me sad. Really, truly sad. I know in my head that it’s over. David is happy now. Same with Jonathan. Jesus was the ultimate goal of the Bible, and he successfully came to save us. The words are there to help me learn and understand the nature and character of God, but I get so involved with the story and the characters that I can’t quite untangle myself from them.
When we get to heaven, I want to meet King David. I think he is the most fascinating character–non-divine character–in the entire Bible. This is a man who lives big. He dances so big that his wife hates him. He drools on his beard to make someone think he’s insane. When a man dies touching the Ark, he wants the Ark far away. As soon as someone is blessed by the Ark, he wants it close again. He’ll do anything for a blessing from God. But he sins big, too, and he mourns those sins with poetry and song that speak to hearts even now. He lives out emotion in a way I’ve never been able to do.
This guy was real. Sometimes I can’t wrap my head around that. And sometimes I can’t unwrap my head from around that. The history of this planet is real, and God engineered all of it. The sheer size of God and the scope of his plan can be too much to comprehend, so he gives us stories of men and women, stories of real people with much too real good and bad qualities, and through those God makes himself more real to us.
If you’re reading your Bible this year, hooray. I hope you don’t get stuck like I have. I spent a long time today working toward catching up, and I feel good about that. I don’t like to be behind, not when it’s because I’m hiding from the reality that we, humans, are a sinful mess. I’d have to say that’s one of the main themes in the Bible, and it’s really clear in the history of the Israelite nation.
If you’re not reading, it’s not too late to start. Just read it without worrying about how much or how fast. Let it be real to you. It’s history. It’s God calling us to participate in all He did from day one. It’s about broken people, failure, betrayal, anger, tears, joys, birth, life, and ultimately the One Person who takes all that chaos and shines a bright light into it bringing it all into focus.
I need to toughen up a little bit to keep reading the Old Testament. Or the New Testament-we all know hard stuff happens there, too. But maybe it needs to be that real to me. Maybe until I weep with David and fear over Israel and feel the horror of the crucifixion at the end of each gospel, I can’t really understand what this is all about. God chose to give us stories. He chose to unite the past and the present in one long narrative, exposing Himself along the way in the only way we’d truly understand.
It’s not an easy read. But it’s worth it. And yeah, sometimes I wish for more happy endings. Until I remember that the happiest ending is still to come, where I can chat with all the heroes of old and laugh and smile and feast, and the hard parts will be forever behind us. Maybe I’ll be a little more outgoing there, and David and I can share a wild dance out of love and excitement for this great big God who made us.