(Part one of this post is *here*)
To be honest, I've struggled with getting into Bible reading for the last couple of years.
I'd start - fresh notebook and pen on the table, ready to record thoughts and impressions - but forget all about it in a few days.
I'd read, but the words couldn't get any further than my skull.
I'd analyze. It wasn't a lack of "want-to," for my heart did want to connect with God. As heaven surely knows, I needed to connect with Him.
I remember telling my husband that I could feel love for Jesus - that was easy. But God? Oh, He seemed so distant. I loved God because I was "supposed" to. What was my alternative, apostasy? God seemed so harsh, so demanding. Everyone had a different view of Him, too. Which one was correct? (And yes...there are many rabbit trails to track down and many explanations that could be unpacked in this paragraph, but for today, I'll leave it where it is.)
The Bible was all dry to me. I couldn't see the forest for the trees. I kept getting bogged down in details, unable to grasp the story with my heart.
At some point I picked up The Jesus Storybook Bible for my children, and began reading it to them every evening before bed.
I was caught off-guard and surprised at how the stories touched my heart. I felt a little silly sometimes at the catch in my throat and the tear at the corner of my eye - but through a children's Bible story book I finally "got" the story behind The Prodigal Son. I understood the story of the Pearl of Great Price - how we will search for and strive for the Kingdom of God, how we will hunger after knowing God for all of our lives and how it is worth all of our efforts to do so. (If you don't understand what I'm talking about with the story of the Prodigal Son, I urge you to read it again. Place God in the role of the father, and place yourself as the son. What can you learn about the character of God? How does God parent? How does God feel about you?)
The theme of this little story Bible is that every story of the scriptures whispers the name of Jesus. We learn, from the first pages of Scripture to the last, Who God is, and what He is like. We see what moves God, what motivated Him from the get-go.
Here's the Big Reveal that I needed to grasp with my heart, not with my head: Jesus Christ was the FULL expression of God. All of those stories, both parable and real, are intended to teach us about Who God is. They are not moral stories, told to communicate the basics of clean living. The Bible is not simply a "guide book." It is so much more.
The Bible, for all of its imagery, for all of its weight, for all of its sometimes frightening pronouncements which we struggle to understand - is a love story - about God loving us. When we can step back from the nit-pickery and take the panoramic view, this is what our hearts need to embrace: God, from the beginning, was motivated to create because of love. (Yes, the details are important, but not at the cost of missing the entire point, the big picture.)
And so it is that I have picked up The Message Bible to begin my reading quest.
I used to despise The Message.
Why? Because it was a paraphrase, not a translation, and I wanted a word-for-word translation, by gum. I spent a lot of years, decades even, with this opinion. That recently changed, however.
A friend of mine is in the habit of posting snippets of the Bible on facebook, and she uses The Message. I noticed how beautiful the words were, how well they communicated the heart of the story. My rigidity began to drop and I lost my knee-jerk reaction. I lost my fear of paraphrase. I lost a lot of fear, period. I began to see that the style was much the same as that which attracted me via the children's Bible. I asked my husband for a copy of The Message Bible for my birthday. He obliged, and I am loving it. (Well, really, we used my Amazon coupons to purchase it, but that is beside the point...) I am motivated to pick up the Book and read The Story. Once the laborious words were put into common language, I could see the Big Picture. I stopped stubbing my toe on details, and could see the heart of God behind the text of the ages.
What good are details if you don't get the heart of God's Message? Why strain at gnats?
I know all of the arguments against paraphrase. I've used them myself. No doubt, a good study Bible remains the standard fare of a serious Christian, and commentaries will always be delicious. If one doubts the gist of the paraphrase, she can always dig out her favored translation or do a word study.
I am a Wesleyan by theological background, and I recently completed a biography about the man, John Wesley. I was reminded that when Wesley translated the scriptures for the common person, he sought to do so with common language, with words they would understand. If you believe that God loves all people, that He desires that all people come to know Him, then this approach is proper and it is loving.
I'm a common woman who needs to grasp the story behind the Story. My heart needs to capture and internalize the grand sweep of the Love which compelled the Creator. I needed to become like a little child again. I needed to read the Message. I think that this time, I will make it past Leviticus.