Sir Walter Scott, the great Scottish historical novelist was on his deathbed at his home in Galashiels, Scotland. His nurse was at his bedside. He turned to her and said, “Read the book to me.”
“What book will I read to you? This room is full of books,” she replied.
He said, “There is only one Book.”
This World Book Day, we’re taking a look at what this one Book means to some of our authors.
Remember when we were eating barbecued bear meat in Colorado? There are moments in one’s life that one just doesn’t forget. Perhaps they didn’t seem so momentous at the time – and yet they stick in one’s mind. And now as I look back I can recognize certain ‘moments’ that have shaped how I regard the Scriptures. The first moment is a rather long one – my father’s preaching ministry. He was a United Presbyterian pastor, and in that calling he gave premier attention to his preaching ministry.
I can remember some bits of sermons and handling of texts. But particulars matter little – what is so clear now was his focus. Whether morning sermon or evening sermon, his preaching was consistently an explanation of a biblical passage. It was my father’s confession of the need of God’s people. Nice, isn’t it, if in the church you have a helpful “accountability” group or an opportunity to send the youth to summer camp or a winter retreat? Yet we can get along without such optional extras. We don’t even have to have a “praise team,” heretical as that may sound. But every time my father preached he was opening up a passage of Scripture, and, by doing that week–by–week, year–by–year, he was saying to the church, “The Bible is what you need.” I think that has finally impressed me.
The second moment consists of a brief conversation my mother had with me as a lad. I don’t remember the context; I simply recall that she was talking with me about the inspiration of Scripture (in terms a ten–year–old might understand). She said the Bible has such a richness about it, that you can go back to the same passage time and again and still see fresh truth there that you had not seen before. That, by the way, is just what you’d expect of something if the living, fascinating, interesting God was behind it. I’ve never forgotten that moment: she taught me to expect to meet the depth of Scripture.
Still another moment came at a Bible conference in Winona
Lake, Indiana. I was probably in my early teens. It was a 7.00 a.m. meeting with Dr. Walter Wilson, a physician and Bible teacher who was likely in his seventies at the time. He stressed that in personal Bible reading you should continue reading
(even if it took a long time!) until you found something you could use for that day. One has to be careful with that principle – you dare not twist the Scriptures in order to ‘make’ them practical.
But his positive point was: don’t simply read to read or to amass biblical data but keep asking how what you are reading applies to you and your circumstances. He made me assume the usefulness of the Bible; he was trying to tell us Paul was right: “All scripture is God–breathed and profitable.”
My fourth moment was a bit more painful, at least at the time. When I was fourteen, our family moved. In the middle of a school year. It’s happened to other kids, but this time it happened to me: I went from the familiar and comfortable and enjoyable to the reverse. The new high school was strange and I was immediately behind in several subjects. Worse (to me), the whole area was a different kind of ‘culture’ and students at school didn’t seem especially cordial to Christians. I am sure, as I look back, that I exaggerated the problem. But still, every day was a piece of misery. When I went to school I felt like I was going off to battle. No surprise then that I found the Psalms so sustaining. Early in the morning I would take my red, ball–point pen and underline texts in my Bible. One day it might be Psalm 56:9 (“This I know, that God is for me”), or maybe 57:1 (“In the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by”). Here I learned not merely the applicability but the urgency of the Bible. Day by day I dragged myself to the bus stop fortified (I hoped) by some fresh assurance from the Psalms. Those are my “milestone” moments in regard to the Bible. Over the years they have, I think, produced a kind of desperation in me. The Scriptures in which God speaks to me have become the manna of my soul, and I find that I must have that “morning by morning”.
The young man was very confident in his understanding and rejection of the Bible. Too confident. ‘Surely you don’t believe
in a book written by a bunch of illiterate desert shepherds? The Bible is a lot of rubbish’. He was also illogical (how could illiterate people write the Bible?!). I asked him if he had actually read the Bible. No – he had just read about it on various atheist websites. So the answer was simple. Why not just read the Bible?
I was brought up with the Bible and at one point in my teenage life I suspect I would have sided with my atheist antagonist. But then I met some people who not only read the Bible, they said they believed it and it seemed to make a difference. So I started again.
As a sixteen year old I began reading at 1 Kings – not the best place to begin. I ploughed into 2 Kings and was on the point of giving up, when after a series of events, I became a Christian.
I saw the Bible in a whole new light and for the past thirty–two years have read it through at least once a year. For the past twenty–five years I have taught it three to five times every week!
So what does it mean to me?
Firstly, it is an astonishing book – unlike any other. It is not an academic book yet is stretches my mind and makes me think unlike anything else I have ever read. It is not a self–help book yet it has been a greater help to me than everything I know. It is not a religious book and yet it has led me to God. It is not a political book and yet it has shown me why our world is in such a mess. It is not a book of morals and yet it has helped clarify for
me right and wrong. In other words the Bible is my food and drink. I do not read, study or preach it as a ‘professional’ just doing my job. It is the Word of God. Through it God speaks not only to me, but also to his Church and indeed to the whole world. People are ‘born again …through the living and enduring
Word of God’ (1 Peter 1:23)
Indeed even as I write I have just returned from visiting a young man in prison, who having found himself in a cell on his own, began to read the Bible, and as he read Matthew’s Gospel, experienced in himself a profound change. The Bible brings light into darkness, life into death and love into damnation.
Of course there are great difficulties in the Bible – what else would you expect? There is variety of genre, apparent (though not real) contradictions, and even the apostle Peter found some things hard to understand! But as the living and enduring Word of God, it is still as fresh and dynamic as the day it was first revealed.
The young friend that I mentioned at the beginning, decided
to go and read the Bible. My last letter from him stated that he was now beginning to understand and it scared him that it all seemed to make sense. Indeed it does…
When I think of God’s Word, I think of people; people whose stories populate the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. They are people who have met with God and seen his handiwork in their lives, for good or ill.
When I was a child I loved to hear and read Bible stories. They were exotic and exciting. And I learned early that God was strong and able to change what seemed like impossible circumstances in a glorious way. Gideon’s story always intrigued me. He was confronted with both an enormous invading army and God’s battle plan, which included using the strangest of strategies and weapons. Gideon struggled to believe that God knew what he was doing and ended up with an amazing result.
God’s strength and power was seen in Moses’ life right from the beginning, when God protected him from the Egyptian soldiers in a small woven basket. And God went right on protecting Moses throughout his life, leading and teaching him so he could lead and teach God’s people.
There were also stories that came with warnings. Jonah’s disobedience led him to be dinner for a very large fish, and God could have left him there because Jonah deserved it. Instead God showed his mercy and compassion when Jonah prayed, asking God to deliver him. But then there were those who began well and ended badly. King Saul was chosen by God to be Israel’s first king and at first Saul served God. But when Saul grew arrogant and disobedient, God deserted him. God was justly angry and offered Saul no forgiveness.
The stories of Jesus’ life on earth are especially interesting and important to me. As a child I wondered what it would have been like to be in the crowds that listened to Jesus teach or watched him heal people. It must have been amazing and yet fearful too. Jesus looked like any other man, but he was also God’s Son. What would it have been like to see his suffering at Calvary, or meet him after his resurrection? Which disciple would I have been like?
Through my years of growing up and growing older I have returned again and again to read the stories of Biblical characters. I find it comforting to read about people who were not perfect, yet God was merciful to them. Like me, Peter struggled with trusting Jesus, or managed to get it all wrong and was rebuked by the Lord. Like me, Job had to learn that God doesn’t have to answer the ‘why’ questions and we must be content with that. Like me, David sinned, with grievous results, pleaded for forgiveness and received it. These stories give me comfort knowing that such people struggled just as I do and God was gracious to them.
The main reason I love the Bible stories is they teach me more about God than they do about the people. They reveal his attributes, his great majesty, his compassion, and his mighty power. Most of all they show me that God is all–wise and in control of everything. I’m reminded of that every time I read the life of Joseph. His life was a huge roller coaster ride. He began life as a favourite son, was then sold as a slave, became a trusted overseer, was falsely accused and imprisoned, and finally became the second most powerful man in Egypt. Yet all of these things happened according to God’s plan and as a result Joseph was able to say to his brothers near the end of his life: ‘you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good’ (Gen. 50:20 ESV).
A book has to be read to have any impact but the Bible is different. God, as its author, is not limited to pages and text. He is the living Word and with that power his Word goes out into the entire world, into any heart and mind and gets to work.
The Word of God doesn’t have to be bound between cloth covers for it to be powerful. It can lie dormant in the mind for decades and then reappear through a memory. You can hear it just once and it will change your life. It can come out of nowhere into your very being even if your culture doesn’t have a Bible in its own language. God’s Word has a life of its own because in a wonderful, mind boggling way, the very words we read from God are God.
When I was ten years old I read the opening line of Psalm 23 inside a golden locket. I had been looking for evidence of a romance, but instead I came across true love – the love of God. And that is one thing that the Bible means to me – love. It has shown me that God loves me and that I need to love God above all else and above all others. Not that my love makes God love me anymore than he does. To love more than he does already is not possible for God. He only ever loves completely. His love once given is never diluted, taken away or even withheld temporarily until we sort ourselves out.
If I were to go through the Word of God studying only one word, love, I would never get to the end of the wonders. In our world many search fruitlessly for unconditional love. But when we go to the Word, the one Word, the true Word – we will find that there is only one condition to true love – and that is to receive it from God in exchange for wickedness and sin.
I’d like to draw your attention to one particular passage of scripture that I think illustrates God’s love in a truly graphic way. Look up Zechariah 3 in the Old Testament. It’s a simple story about a swap. Joshua the high priest stands before Satan and the LORD. He is dressed in filthy clothes and Satan is accusing him. The LORD rebukes Satan and in a triumph of grace takes away Joshua’s filthy clothes and with that his sins. Now you’d be forgiven for thinking that God had done enough by taking away the problem of sin. But no – God, as the God of grace, desires to give abundantly and above what we could ever imagine. Joshua’s sin is taken away with his dirty clothes and he is given in exchange new clothes, rich clothes, splendour, authority, respect, dignity and privileges. This is an exchange that can also be ours through Christ. Standing there dressed in the righteousness and glory of the Son of God we are fit for a heavenly royalty. Without the Bible I would never have known that this was a possibility. I would have remained hopeless, unloved, unforgiven and guilty.
I am thankful for those who told me about God’s Word, read to me from it, sang and preached of it, printed it, translated it and even smuggled it through the years so that today I can read and understand its truth. But they are vessels and not the source. I am thankful to the Word for the Word!
Thank you God.
These excerpts were taken from What The Bible Means to Me: Testimonies of how God’s Word Impacts edited by Catherine Mackenzie