The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Worship

April 30, 2012

David Yount: Bible’s length daunts many

JOPLIN, Mo. — The Bible can be a source of strength for young and old alike. But the challenge every reader of the Bible encounters at the outset is that it is formidable in length -- my copy runs to 1,862 pages of tiny type -- and, to all appearances, lacks a coherent plot.

Whereas dictionaries and encyclopedias are alphabetized for easy reference, the reader of Scripture needs a weighty concordance to navigate the Good Book.

Is it any wonder that people desperate for inspiration are tempted to open the Bible at random and blindly lay a finger on a verse hoping it will impart the wisdom that will show them the way?

Those who manage to read the Bible from cover to cover, beginning with Genesis, are like the weary adventurers who hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. They remember only the highlights of the journey. The rest can be mindless drudgery.

Lamentably, Scripture is often employed as a weapon. Christians who oppose each other on issues such as abortion, animal rights, capital punishment and euthanasia, for example, are often drawn to quote passages from the Bible to justify their positions. No surprise here: It has long been conceded that the devil himself can quote Scripture to his advantage. We probably demand too much of written revelation. If we relied only on the letter of Scripture, we might still tolerate slavery, and women would be second-class citizens.

Jesus exalted poverty -- a condition every sensible person abhors -- then transformed sorrow, suffering and meekness from vices into virtues. Moreover, he instructed us to love our enemies and pray for those who treat us badly.

On encountering these precepts, we can be forgiven for not finding them to be crystal-clear formulas for confident living. They seem to make Christianity more of a burden than a consolation. Still, this is how God chose to speak to humankind, so we persist in looking to Scripture for answers.

Despite its apparent drawbacks, every generation has been drawn to the Bible as to a vast mine that contains treasure, undeterred by the fact that some of the gold is difficult to extract. I am encouraged by the example of Robert Louis Stevenson. As a child of three, on learning that sheep and horses knew nothing about God, the future author asked his nurse to read the Bible to them for their salvation.

The churches wisely mete out critical selections from Scripture over the course of a year so that worshippers receive a representative smattering of revelation that roughly summarizes their faith. The sermons heard from Sunday to Sunday tend to be based on relatively few passages -- a practice that, far from depriving us of the Bible’s wisdom, aims to make sense of it.

David Yount is the author of 14 books. He answers readers at P.O. Box 2758, Woodbridge, VA 22195 and dyount31@verizon.net.

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