I visited a bookstore recently, a large new building on the edge of Nashville that houses thousands of used books, CDs, DVDs and games. Of course, it was a great place to be, because (as I joked with the salesperson) there are two kinds of people in the world – those who go to bookstores and those who don’t. And if I quote my friend correctly, “Those who do not read have no advantage over those who cannot read.”
I don’t mean to conclude that everyone should be avid readers, but there is something beneficial to your own capacity for thought and self-expression derived from reading. I have stood on four of the seven continents and yet my understanding of the people and culture of those places is far more informed by the things I have read than by my time visiting. My experience in person has helped me better understand what I have read, but unless we live in a place for years, acquire language competency and cultural experience we will learn more from the insight gained from reading the words and observations of others.
But I’m not writing this just to encourage you to read books (though I will cheer you on if you do).
I am going to recommend a book to you, one that can bring tremendous insight into our human condition, one that can indeed put into words the understanding and wisdom that help to bring insight into our own experiences of life. It is not a new book, yet it remains among the best-selling books worldwide every year. It is available in many languages and many editions. It has been studied by scholars and abused by charlatans. It has been translated into ornate and extraordinary literary styles and rendered into colloquial speech. It has been both revered and ridiculed.
Of course, you have figured out (me being a preacher) that I am talking about the Bible. There was a time when the Bible was restricted reading – ordinary people weren’t trusted to handle it correctly – but that time has long passed. For more than 500 years now, the Bible has been accessible to “regular” folks and I wonder if long familiarity has led to neglect and complacency. Yet I hear a constant reference to spiritual thought, a frequent interest in finding meaning and purpose in life. But many times, there is no source of such understanding cited, it is up to us to figure it out on our own. Recently I have heard (and read) several sharp criticisms of the Bible, even some accusations that clearly have failed to accurately portray the Bible’s content.
There was a time when I read the Bible through with the sole intention of finding every possible flaw in order to argue against it. It took a while. It’s a big book. And it didn’t take me where I thought I wanted to go. I found myself standing in a very different place, seeing myself through a different perspective and the world changed around me. I changed, too. Before you dismiss this book as so many do without ever truly investigating it for themselves, I would pray that you would test it for yourself. It’s God’s book and it is meant for all of us; it isn’t the private property of churches.