Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bible reading advice

I am glad to see more people being interested in thoughtful reading of the Bible, especially Catholics, many of whom have relied on their Bible reading being conveyed via listening to the three or four Bible readings that comprise each daily Mass. I'm also glad that people are rediscovering the Old Testament. I want to offer some advice in that regard.

I've blogged several suggestions before. To briefly repeat, one suggestion is to read the works of Paul (this being his Pauline Year) and backtrack all footnotes (Catholic Bibles have extensive foot noting) in order to reference Old Testament verse that Paul is either directly citing or alluding to, or are supportive of what he is saying. That is a great way to "dip" into the Old Testament one verse at a time while following the mindset and logic of the great Apostle Paul.

I've also suggested reading the Book of Psalms, which is very approachable. That is one reason I often select blog Bible readings from Psalms. The great Billy Graham recommended this also in his Ask Billy Graham newspaper column this week.

Here is a new suggestion. The reason people should read and understand the Old Testament is that it is key to understanding God. The Old Testament is not just about God's laws and commands, and thus should not be ignored by Christians who think that it just alludes to Jewish ritual law that they no longer follow. Rather, the Old Testament is like a diary of the human encounters with God. If you want to understand God, one has to read the Old Testament and study what God said and did, as God is revealing himself through his interaction with humans.

Thus I recommend that people who want to dive back into the Old Testament, or who are reading from it for the first time, do not read it sequentially at first, but rather start with the books of Samuel 1 and Samuel 2. If one reads those books one is treated to really being able to observe God's interaction and "point of view" with three key personages in faith history: Samuel, Saul and King David. The barren wife Hannah prays to God for a child, and promises to consecrate the child to God, in some very moving example of prayer that is contained in the Old Testament. The result is Samuel, who is consecrated to God and whom God authorizes to identify and consecrate those whom God has chosen to be King of Israel. The failings of Saul and how God deals with him are instructive. But of course the most rewarding insight is that into the love of King David for God, and how God loved him in return. So I recommend that you all who are interested read Samuel 1 and Samuel 2, not to focus on the events but rather to view it as a diary of interaction between God and his people, and what it reveals about God.

For example, notice how Hannah understands "how" to pray to God. That is a frequent topic in these modern times, regarding what to pray to God for when making a request and how to pray. Second, you see how God reaches out to Samuel and develops their relationship. Third, Samuel is not only a holy man but also one with political and military responsibility (hence he is a "Judge," which is not meaning what it does in modern society. Fourth you see how God agrees to the people's need and desire for a King. Fifth you see how Samuel seeks out and consecrates Saul. Sixth you see how Saul starts out with such promise, but the corrupting force of jealousy. Wow, that is sure important in these times; envy of another person's spiritual goodness is an offense against God in the form of the Holy Spirit, by the way. Seventh, you see what a full relationship with God is like, as King David had with God, even though their communication was not founded on the modern stereotype of frequent apparitions by God, but rather, on David's deep abiding faith and personal love for God. Eighth you see how God handles situations when his beloved King David sins. So these are a remarkable two books that provide a richness and wealth of insight into God, through sheer observation of these events, and prayerful contemplation of "God's point of view."

I hope that you find this helpful.