Read the Bible for an overall picture of a good, loving God

Pastors accumulate Bibles. The Bible is the central document where Christians find and are found by God. Reading and studying these writings are a central discipline of our spiritual lives. Recently I counted more than 50 copies of the Bible on my shelves. Each has a story; I can tell you what was going on in my life when I acquired them, or when I was reading from them regularly. Some belonged to my parents; a couple are even older. My father studied daily from the Swedish Bible that had been his father’s, and from the new Swedish translation I gave him a few years before he died.

The Christmas I was 4 years old, my grandmother gave me a small blue Bible, with sepia photos of the Holy Land. It has a taped back spine that fell off while I was on a youth group camping trip to Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Another Bible also has a taped spine. I’d used it all during seminary, and it suffered from being hauled around amongst a satchel of heavy textbooks. I was so proud of my repair job, until I noticed I’d taped it upside down! There are two identical red Bibles my bishop presented to me when I was ordained a deacon, then a priest 6 months later. There’s the New English Bible I bought with hard-earned baby-sitting money when it was first published. There’s the RSV my sister and I bought my dad for Father’s Day. He liked it so well that he saved it “for later,” and it’s almost never been read from. There’s the Bible with the hardback fake leather cover that I had to use during fourth grade at my Lutheran elementary school its ink and paper still carry a smell that takes me back half a century. There’s a copy I studied from regularly when our family had some big medical challenges, with notes in the margins bearing witness to the encouragement I derived from my reading. There are many more; you get the idea.

Our congregation has recently taken up “The Bible Challenge” to read the Bible from cover to cover from Ash Wednesday 2014 to the beginning of Lent in 2015. Maybe now is the time for you to try reading this ancient but still lively document that is central to the Christian faith. Maybe you have a Bible, even one that has sat on the shelf unopened for years. Or maybe you prefer to read from one of several wonderful online Bible sites.

Whatever the outside of your Bible looks like, get to know its contents and its contexts. Find a group of friends to read with. Not all of the Bible is easy to understand, and some parts are violent, boring, or confusing. Don’t let that stop you; read this time for the overall picture of a good and loving God who invites and welcomes you into a life-changing relationship. I wish you joy in your reading.

Mary P. Johnson is priest in charge at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Minot.