A Year for the Bible
In December's Pelican, Wil James looks forward to the promise of the new church year and our forthcoming exploration of the Bible.
With the arrival of Advent we find ourselves at the turning of the church year – a moment to look ahead to the promise of the year to come. At St Giles, the coming months will be marked out as a Year for the Bible, a time for us to turn back to scripture, to discover – or discover again – the foundations of our faith and to deepen our understanding of God’s revealed purpose for us.
Now your immediate response to this call might be, “I don’t need any prompt to ready my Bible, thank you very much.” If you are mature in your faith, you may well feel that you know “what’s what” or that your Sunday School education was so comprehensive that there is nothing new you could possibly learn. Alternatively, you might be thinking, “where do I start?” or “What if I get found out for not having read the Second Letter to Timothy?”
But if you can feel the “not for me” welling up inside you, I would encourage you to rethink. Because studying the Bible is not simply a question of educational merit, of learning the twelve tribes of Israel, or being able to tell which Mary is which in the New Testament. More importantly, studying the Bible is part of a fellowship to which we are called as Christians: not as an individual pursuit, but as a collective endeavour. It connects us with fellow believers across time and space, and it can also teach us how to build a better community with our fellow Christians in the here and now.
One of the most challenging parts of Bible study is that the lives and experiences of the people described can seem so distant. But if we are willing to reach beyond the strange names and the sometimes archaic practices, we find that the Bible is full of humanity in all its diversity. Indeed, one might argue that what modern readers really find challenging about the Bible is the intensity of the humanity that it records: it reveals to us a way of life that is contrary to our modern individualistic assumptions, which can be difficult to take on board.
The Bible does not start from the assumption, which we often make in modern society, that any one individual is the ultimate source of rightness or that all answers can come from within the self. It is full of the stories of ordinary, flawed people acting in extraordinary ways because they were willing to step outside their constrained lives in pursuit of a relationship with God. That relationship is not straightforward, it is often contentious, misguided, searching, frustrated, despairing. But the Bible is permeated with the basic assumption that a relationship with the Creator is a real and tangible fact of life and a willingness to make space for the existence of that mystery.
Engaging with the humanity to be found in the Bible points us towards a more relational way of living, where we become more able to see ourselves and those around us through the lens that scripture provides. If you’re not sure whether you belong – look to the Bible and you will see that all manner of people have a place in God’s kingdom. If you find someone too difficult or awkward to deal with – look to the Bible and you will find myriad examples of God working through awkward, difficult people. If you find yourself in a situation so dire that you don’t feel you can share the burden with anyone – look to the Bible for the assurance that God is ready to work through your fellow Christians to help you, if you’re willing to let him in.
My prayer is that the Year for the Bible will be a year of deepening fellowship at St Giles. Not a year merely for burying our heads in The Good Book, but a year for talking, debating, arguing and – I sincerely hope – understanding one another a little better through our encounter with scripture.