There was a time when everyone knew the basic Bible stories. That’s not as common anymore. Although many people own a Bible, few have actually read it. The Bible has shaped our language, our culture, and our faith, but it’s a largely misunderstood book.
At my church, we have embarked on a year-long “Journey through the Bible,” to introduce the key stories and people in this fascinating book. It’s a challenging undertaking. The Bible is a complex and very long book. Our goal is to help people open up their Bibles and explore these fascinating stories on their own. We offer suggested reading guides and links to videos and other resources, and we meet once a month to discuss what we’re discovering.
We started at the beginning, with the stories in Genesis and Exodus. From the very first pages, we realized that there is so much more to these stories than what we learned as children. The biblical stories are so complex that one can discover something new no matter how many times they are read.
In Genesis and Exodus, we met Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his family, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Jacob’s twelve sons (especially Joseph), and Moses. In the very first pages, we discovered new things in these familiar stories. Did you know there are two very different accounts of creation, with completely different narratives? But in both, it is clear that it was God’s intention for humans to live in harmony with God and with all creation. By page 3, however, it all fell apart when Adam and Eve gave in to temptation. But God, although angry and disappointed, didn’t give up on them.
We read the Noah story, which is often depicted in picture books with cute animals on the ark, and found that it is actually a very dark, disturbing story of humans’ failures and of God’s attempt to start over. Noah, a good man whom God chose to save from the floods, followed God’s instructions up to a point, but then acted atrociously after the water receded. And yet God again gave humankind another chance.
We saw God choose Abraham and Sarah to be the forebears of a great nation, making a covenant with Abraham that his descendants would be God’s chosen people. God’s unusual choice of Abraham as “the father of nations” showed how God selected regular people to carry out his vision of a whole relationship with God and humankind.
We met Jacob and Esau, and questioned why God would approve of the second son’s deception of his older brother to steal his birthright. We pondered why Joseph, the youngest son of Jacob, would be raised up to power over his brothers. We explored the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, only for the people to grumble, complain, and defy God.
We moved into the history books and saw over and over how God’s people disappointed God and how over and over God forgave them and gave them more chances. We saw a theme develop as God never gave up on his people. Time and again, God showed them a way to restore the perfect relationship that was present at creation. Time and again, the people messed up. And time and again, God corrected them, forgave them, and gave them more chances.
The stories in the Bible turn the expected norms upside down, with God patiently loving obstinate, flawed, and imperfect individuals in the hopes of restoring the relationship between God and humankind. As we enter the season of Advent, we will see the story continue as God chooses a carpenter and an unwed pregnant teenager to give birth to the Messiah who will bring God’s kingdom to earth in a new way.
As we continue our journey through the Bible, we meet a God who loves imperfect people and who continues to hold out the vision of a better world. We meet a God who doesn’t give up on love. What makes the Bible so compelling is that the story continues to this day.
Would you like to join the journey? You can find suggested readings and videos at www.westminsterauburn.org/journey-through-the-bible or follow Westminster’s Facebook page at facebook.com/westminsterauburn. The church can provide a Bible to anyone who’d like one.