One of the most humorous Christian books I have read was The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass, which contains the line “I once knew a guy who was converted by a semi-colon in Leviticus.” To take the Bible seriously at every level is a challenge for Christians of all ages, and I have to admit that there are some parts of the Bible which are difficult to give much more than a cursory glance. I have rediscovered this over the past month as I have been working through 1 Chronicles in my private devotions. In case you haven’t seen it recently, its early chapters are littered with names of descendants of the tribes of Israel… list after list of family genealogies. Not the most inspirational of texts to read.
What are we to make of such lists? Many of the names are not repeated anywhere in scripture, their lives and deeds considered to be of no more worthy note than their place in the line of Israel. Hardly life-transforming stuff for us. After all, does it make much difference to me if I know that Shephatiah was David’s fifth son born in Hebron by Abital? Maybe not.
The New Testament speaks of a “book of life” (Rev 20: 12,15; 21:27), which holds the key to the evaluation of our lives. Were that book available to us today, many of us would undoubtedly pour over it in search of names of people important to us. It is the book which is often referred to in jokes about arrival at the Pearly Gates, but its significance is not diminished by such references.
For the Jew, it was important to know one’s ancestry, because the family place in the Promised Land could be traced back to the allocations made by Moses when the liberated Israelites took possession of the land. These passages, then, speak life, promise, and place in God’s purposes.
To take the Bible seriously is to engage with its message, to hear the voice of God speaking to us as we hear, even as we hear God speaking to its original hearers. The Bible keeps us connected to the great narrative which is God’s story – HIStory – the unfolding purposes in which Jesus of Nazareth is pivotal, and we are invited to be creative participants.
The Bible is a living book, more than just an insurance policy for when we die, but a living word, grounded in human struggles and human realities. By committing ourselves to reading it daily, we learn to recognise the hand of God at work today, and the call of God to us in the midst.
September 23, 2007