I just finished reading a very intriguing book called, “The Year of Living Biblically.” The author, A.J. Jacobs, tried to follow the Bible literally for one year. No haircuts, a full, bushy beard, dietary restrictions, observance of all the religious holidays. He even followed the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” During the year, he and his wife found out they were pregnant with twins. I’m not sure Jacobs was completely successful in his quest but it made for an entertaining read.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was Jacobs’ slow transformation during his biblical year. His initial approach to this endeavor was a bit tongue-in-cheek. Jacobs, a self-proclaimed agnostic, is never disrespectful or mocking, but he starts out with a healthy skepticism about this revered and authoritative book.
But over the course of the year, as he spends more time studying and following the scriptures, Jacobs gradually begins to see the benefit of living a religious existence. At one point Jacobs found himself saying little prayers of “thank you” throughout the course of the day. He admits he’s not sure to whom he was praying, but he remarked this shift in his outlook changed him as a person.
I found Jacobs’ exercise both fascinating and revealing. I think many people think of the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures (what we know as the Old Testament) as a bunch of laws and regulations and repeated commands of “thou shalt not.” And, to a certain point, that’s what it is. One way of understanding the Bible is that it provides guidance for how to live our lives in a way that will please God and honor our neighbor.
But, as Jacobs found out, the Bible is so much more than that. If we only look at it as a giant Miss Manners book, we miss the meaning behind the law. God didn’t want the Israelites to live a certain way because God is a strict disciplinarian. God wanted the Israelites to grow closer to God through a sacred lifestyle that set them apart from the surrounding pagan cultures.
In other words, the Bible is a means to an end – living a life in relationship with God. I don’t know if Jacobs got that far, but I hope he learned along the way that there’s something more to scripture than just following the rules. There’s the faith and relationship which undergirds and informs our decisions.
I give Jacobs a lot of credit. At least he picked up the book and cracked the spine. I believe a lot of Bibles go unread because people see them as archaic, inaccessible documents. And even if they are brave enough to give it a go, as soon as they hit the first list of “begats” the Bible goes back on the shelf.
I can’t say I blame them. I did the same thing the first time I tried to read the Bible. But what I learned about this dynamic book is that it wasn’t meant necessarily to be read from cover to cover. Instead of thinking of it as one big book, I saw it as a collection of smaller books and letters – a holy library, if you will. Different books were written for different reasons and serve different purposes.
So if someone were to ask me where to start, I wouldn’t say Genesis. I would start with a gospel. Luke is a good choice. Then I would recommend reading the book of Acts, which is the story of the spreading of the good news after Jesus’ resurrection. Then read another gospel, maybe Matthew this time. Then read Romans, Paul’s letter that lays out his understanding of following Jesus.
Regardless of where you start, just reading something in the Bible is the first step. Now that I read it daily, I can’t imagine what life was like without it. It has changed me in ways I couldn’t even have imagined. Yes, we are called to live a lifetime of faith, but the best way to accomplish that is not committing to a year, like Jacobs did. I think we can start with just one day at a time.