First, there’s a reason reading the Bible is so difficult. For starters, there are so many different styles of literature, from poetry to historical accounts to books of law and prophetic writings. Some of them are pretty boring to read. Others are confusing, and they leave us with so many questions. On top of that, the more interesting stories we read in the Old Testament are not nice stories. It’s hard to take in just how many terrible things God’s chosen people did to each other!
Father Mike was laughing in one of this week’s podcast episodes because he realized he’s said the word “brokenness” every day since the podcast began. And there’s a reason for that: the Old Testament is full of brokenness! From the get-go, there’s lying, envy, murder, crimes against family members, plotting and deception. So many of these stories are not the children’s stories we thought they were, and it’s tempting to look at all of this and say that if this is what religion’s about, it’s no good. But there’s an important distinction to be made: just because it was recorded in the Bible does not mean the action is a good thing. God rarely comes out and says “that thing you just did was bad,” but we see the consequences of people’s actions. Families are broken apart, there is tension and anger within marriages, and bonds between nations are broken.
There are a couple mistakes we can make when reading these accounts of the Old Testament. First, we can distance ourselves from the crimes of the Old Testament, and think “look how terrible those people were back then.” Or we can go to the other extreme and judge ourselves too harshly, analyzing our own sins and calling ourselves terrible people.
What posture, then, should we take while reading scripture? Father Mike says, “We read the story not to say, ‘Oh my goodness, look at how broken they were back then,’ but rather we read the stories so we know our family tree, and also to know our hearts. This is not just where God reveals his heart to us in His word, but also reveals our hearts to ourselves.” What does that mean? It means the roots of the horrible things we see in the Old Testament are still things that cause woundedness in our current world and in our own hearts. Envy between siblings, parents not loving their children equally, wanting something so badly we’re willing to deceive, fight, or betray for it - all of these things come from a broken heart, from the original lie that God does not have our best interests in mind and we must look out for ourselves. In reflecting on the lives of Biblical figures, we can see our own hearts reflected back to us and come to know ourselves better.
But when we see ugliness, what do we do? Foremost, it is so important not to go into self-help mode and try to fix ourselves. Reading scripture should lead us into conversation with God, so when we see the brokenness of our own hearts, it’s time to talk to the Lord about it. Even the strongest willpower isn’t enough to bring healing. God’s grace is available and necessary for us precisely for this reason. All we have to do is ask. God, I feel bitter toward my family. Help me turn to you. Help me to see others as a gift, and not as competition. Whatever of our own hearts we see reflected in the scriptures, we can talk to God about and ask Him for his grace to cover us. Slowly, steadily, our hearts will change.
Ultimately, Father Mike points out, God can write straight with crooked lines. When we read the genealogy of Jesus, we see the names of so many sinful and broken people. But those who continually return to God and make Him Lord of their lives give Him room to do incredible things. Our own Savior came from that messy lineage. I love the way Fr. Mike said it: “God can actually bring about a phenomenally greater good even when we choose evil. Even when something isn’t good or beautiful, God can make things work for good.”
As a final point, I’d like to encourage you to push past the intimidating aspect of picking up the Bible and delve right in. The podcast I’ve been listening to is available to start at any time and to listen through at your own pace, but there are all sorts of Bible reading guides out there. And hey, Lent is in a couple weeks, so that could be a great opportunity. Reading scripture helps us to know God’s heart, the story of his people, and our own hearts, and the Lord’s grace is there to bring healing along the way.