I was in the evangelical churches for about 15 years. For most of that time I read the Bible almost every day. Now I’ve got some Bible, and that’s not a bad thing. The Bible is really the basis of our culture — our legal system, and our sense of right and wrong. If you’re not a churchgoer, and you’ve never read the Bible, here’s a couple of ideas.
In the New Testament, Jesus has a lot to say to his disciples. Most of what he said was to them only, although there it is in the Bible for anyone to read. One of the things he said that he seemed to say for everyone, was in the following scripture:
“And He was also saying to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, A shower is coming, and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, It will be a hot day, and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?’ ” (Luke, chapter 12, verses 54-56).
This was an analysis of the times, however, that made sense to me. I’m sure there are many others. Most of the time analyses of the times take a simple moral approach. You see that there are so many murders in Chicago every year and you anticipate that God will retaliate somehow in his indignation. But, as I explained in my own analysis after the fall of the Berlin Wall, analyses can take many forms and may simply be even political. The important thing is that you watch and pray and anticipate on behalf of what you feel is “the good.” And be open to God, to whatever he may want to say to you.
A good sidebar to this “analyze the times” idea is simply reading the Bible – and maybe reading the newspaper at the same time. I read a local paper for several years along with the Bible. Granted, much of what I saw in the newspaper was about my own interests, the environment, for instance. (It was while Kevin Carmody was still on the Daily Southtown writing all kinds of stories about the environment. He was a great environmental correspondent, but he has since left the Southtown and recently passed away.) Or, instead of buying the newspaper and having to fetch it from the driveway every morning, simply set your start page to a good news site on the Internet, like McClatchy Washington Bureau or even CNN. That way you can get the news before you do your usual business on the Internet. (It’s good to dig, though – the more digging you do, the better the chances you will really learn something from it.)
So that’s one thing — analyze the times. Another thing is watch for what is lifted up as wisdom. Here’s some Bible verses from the Book of Proverbs (by the way, a good book for an unbeliever to read):
“Wisdom shouts in the street, She lifts her voice in the square; At the head of the noisy streets she cries out; At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings: ‘How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing And fools hate knowledge? Turn to my reproof, Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you: I will make my words known to you.’ ” (Proverbs, chapter 1, verses 20-23).
Or this one —
“Does not wisdom call, And understanding lift up her voice? On top of the heights beside the way, Where the paths meet, she takes her stand; Beside the gates, at the opening to the city, At the entrance of the doors, she cries out: ‘To you, O men, I call, And my voice is to the sons of men. O naive ones, understand prudence; And, O fools, understand wisdom. Listen, for I will speak noble things;’ …” (Proverbs, chapter 8, verses 1-6a).
It seems silly to say so, but it’s like the theme song to a favorite TV show. The words are often touting wisdom and holding it up for everyone. (Or it may be your favorite song, a poem, or something else):
“Everywhere you look, everywhere you go (there’s a heart), There’s a heart, A hand to hold onto. Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, There’s a face, Of somebody who needs you. Everywhere you look, When you’re lost out
there and you’re all alone, A light is waiting to carry you home … ”
(But keep in mind, too, that there are other voices out there not so well-intended or so trustworthy. There’s a difference between the spirit of the age and the spirit of the times. One of them is good, and one of them is not so good.)
I was growing up in the Catholic Church when I was just a boy. It was a time of civil unrest, a chaotic time, even seeing that the president and others were killed – it was a difficult time. I’m sure that, as young as I was, I didn’t understand all of it. But as I came to conclude later, it was a time when God himself was really preaching. Maybe we can keep that in mind when we look at Iraq now. Although, these times for them are even more violent and treacherous than our own troubled times were for us, maybe by some grace of God they will “get it” and the end result will be “well enough.” Let’s hope so. And in the mean time we can do some things that we think might help. And, also, we can sharpen our skills, so that as more troubled times come to us, as surely they will, we will be more prepared to face them.
As I said above, Proverbs is a good book for an unbeliever. It is all about wisdom and very down-to-earth. Of course, the place to start in the Bible is probably Genesis, not only because it is the first book of the Bible and lays the groundwork for everything else, but also because it is so besieged today. Everyone should read Genesis just to know it for oneself. Books of the Bible that maybe are not required would certainly include the Book of Leviticus. These are the ritual laws about blood sacrifice, little of which is known today about their actual meaning.
Some claim that the Bible is too steeped in mystery for the regular person to understand, but I think this is pure baloney. Aside from Leviticus, I think most of the Bible is eminently understandable. Most of the Bible is stories and histories and poetry. The prophetic books are the poetry. In the prophetic books, some of the metaphors and ancient contexts make for difficult reading. But even there, there are very bright and meaningful verses, obvious to the understanding.