“This is part 1 of a series of posts titled “Behind The Mask.” This series grew out of the pains of very real interactions with other people and their experiences, as well as my own existential struggles. Often Christian writings (articles, books, etc.) are filled with so much unrealistic/oversimplified statements and rules that those of us who struggle with Christianity are lost in a raging torrent of self-righteousness and arrogant “truths.” We are urged to wear a mask, hiding our struggles with a perfect smile and a hearty “amen!” I don’t want to do that. Frankly, I just want to be real. If you have never struggled to be a Christian, this isn’t for you, for the rest of us, let’s talk. If your heart is crusty, dry, empty, or completely faithless, this series is for you and me.”
I lay in bed trying to fight off the guilt. Or apathy, I couldn’t tell. I hadn’t read my Bible today. Actually I didn’t read it yesterday either. I searched for a good reason, spinning up a huge proverbial jeopardy wheel to pick an excuse. Twirl, and it’s going around. Let’s see, “I’m was too busy,” nah I had plenty of time. Next one is “worked too late,” psh, really? I haven’t worked late for a year or two. The wheel passes “Had errands to run” and “I was distracted” Neither one is really it, though God knows I am always distracted. “Have terrible self-discipline” sounds better, my imaginary jeopardy wheel settled on an excuse, and I breathed a sigh of relief, at least I had a reason why.
But underneath the fake excuses that I made, that we all make – I imagine, was a bitter reality. I didn’t want to. Let me repeat that for emphasis, some days I don’t want to read the Bible.
My mother, God bless her heart, would tell me, “just read it anyway” or “that’s just the devil.” And for all I know she could be right on all counts. But the truth is, that doesn’t help. It’s never really helped. You can’t just begin to want something that you don’t want. Its ridiculously frustrating! Especially when you feel that you want to have a desire to read the Bible, and yet you know you don’t that desire. Or when you hear of “those people” (the ones who have everything together) who have a hyper-spiritual desire to read it every day for hours, and you’re running on empty, barely scavenging together a few verses here and there. I often have these glamorous fantasies of waking up 30minutes early to read the Bible. And then, a few snooze buttons, I roll over and drag myself to work, trying to avoid being late. You ever have that happen?
And the truth is, it’s not like I am just this horribly unspiritual, undisciplined, and sinful person (ok, I probably am) who ignores the most tantalizing literary experience that simply raptures the brain. C’mon have you read Leviticus lately?! I mean, seriously God!? Why Leviticus? It takes an Old Testament scholar, freshly stocked up on commentaries, to figure anything that’s going on there. Sure, as a Christian, and an informed one at that, I definitely know some of the rituals typify the coming of Jesus. But c’mon now, twenty five thousand words of these confusing rituals to dig through without any social context that I can relate to? Some of these so confusing that no one really explains them, like camping outside after having an emission of semen? (Granted, when I was a kid I found the sexual parts very fascinating and easy to read).
Or what about the genealogies? What if a friend comes by and asks me what I am reading. If I tell him, “I’m reading a personal letter from God” and my friend says “Oh! I want to hear too!” Would I not look like a fool to read to him “The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Sithri” and on and on and on?? Every time I read the genealogies, I began to skim until I start falling asleep. Yes! I know there are some valid uses for them, I even heard a great sermon about it once, but how can I really enjoy an intimate relationship with God by reading a long list of names that mean absolutely nothing to me?!
They say the Bible is a love letter. Honestly, some days I feel like it’s the worst love letter in history. Why would anyone include thousands of genealogies, dietary laws, old cleansing rituals, depictions of brutal animal sacrifices, and violent massacres. God! I want to talk to you! I want to hear your voice! But it’s so hard to find it there sometimes. Some days I don’t want to read the Bible because it seems you are hiding amongst thousands of confusing word.
Some days I don’t want to read the Bible because I feel that I can’t find you in there. And that scares me. Some days I feel that it’s boring and uninviting, I read pages upon pages without feeling or seeing anything. Some days I feel that it’s too confusing and contradictory. Some days I don’t even believe that you’re in there. Some days I feel too many people have twisted the Bible in too many ways. Some days I just don’t want to read it, because it hard work with little pay off. Some days I don’t want to read it because it seems unfair that you’re invisible and you left us with an old book as the only way to hear you. Some days I feel like if you want to say something, just say it verbally, so I wouldn’t have to sit and wonder. Some days I’m just hopeless.
Don’t you care at all, God?
And then I hear an invisible whisper from that old confusing book.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love”
“Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands”
Tears begin to stream down my eyes. I’m not even sure why I’m crying.
A gentle shiver travels down my body. Everything makes sense.
I close my eyes and see two nail pierced hands.
The Bible doesn’t have answers for all of my questions. It’s not the oversimplified love letter that some make it out to be. There are boring names and records because it’s a history not a fictional story. There are confusing prophecies because it was written to span many millennia, not only for today’s millennial’s. There are dietary laws, monetary rules, and cleansing rituals because life has to do with the physical things, not merely spiritual abstracts. There are strange ceremonies and temples and grace because it encompasses every iteration of human relationships with God.
But most importantly, between those genealogies and sacramental rites, there is that tender whisper.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love”