Every morning after tending to the dogs and getting my coffee, I sit down for some time alone with God and the Bible. I’ve done this more years than I can count. However, I’m finding the room increasingly crowded as the years go by. It seems not to matter what part of the Bible I’m in, I run into old friends waiting on me there. There are my old Bible professors and preachers I’ve heard through the years. My parents and grandparents are lurking about in most books with their repeated admonitions in hand. The faces of people I’ve counseled with specific texts pop up at times. The stories of joys or tragedies and the names of the people to whom they happened are there also. Then there are the elders and co-workers in ministry who show up when I come across a passage we lived through or argued about in some past day. I see pews full of faces from the congregations where I’ve preached as I read again scriptures that were texts for sermons delivered to them. As I said, my Bible is crowded.
Even more people fill the room as I open my Bible, many I’ve never even met. There are the composers and musicians who turned scriptures into aural art that got imbedded in me. There are authors of devotional books, theological tomes, commentaries, and special studies I’ve read through the years. Of course, the authors of the Biblical books show up along with the people to whom they were writing. And there are the great church leaders who raise their hands and demand to be heard when I come across passages which formed the foundation for their struggle with the church.
All these people are joined by the faces of people I’ve met in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe who see different things in my Bible. I want to ask them what they are hearing and I’m naïve enough to think I may hear them tell me.
Yes, my Bible is crowded, so crowded at times that I wonder if I can hear God’s voice in it at all. Is there any room for God to speak in this crowded room I meant to be just me and him? Do all of these people who join us and make so much racket that I can barely hear the text block out God’s voice completely? I wonder some times.
Most of all, looming above all these other voices and faces is the Nephilim known as my wishes rooted in my American consumer culture and willful nature. I want the Bible to say certain things to me. I want it to be the affirmation and vindication of my values. Any unoccupied words tend to get filled with my pre-conceived convictions. This voice often claims to be the voice of God and sometimes I believe it, God help me.
My Bible is crowded and if I’ve learned anything through the years it is that I can never read the Bible alone. Even when I am alone, I read my Bible in community. My Bible was preserved by others, translated by others, printed by others, interpreted and taught to me by others, and incarnated in the lives of still others. The attempt to have an exclusive encounter with God’s words is more than naïve, it is downright arrogant. Can I still hear God in all these other voices? Yes I think I can. In fact, that may be the only, or at least the best, way to hear God. It is all these voices that help me distinguish the Nephilim from the Lord. If I can’t convince most of those voices to be at peace with a reading, I’m probably on shaky ground thinking it is from God. Where the voices chime in together with an “Amen” I am on fairly safe ground.
So, yes, my Bible is crowded, just as it should be. Lord thank you for all the people who join us when it is just you and me together in a room with the Bible.