How do we have a conversation with the Bible? Many of us have picked up the Bible and read a ways. Then we run across something we don’t understand, or that seems really odd, or simply doesn’t make sense to us. And then we are stuck. How do we have a conversation with an very old, very eastern often really weird text?
I have a couple of suggestions for you. First, get a modern translation. Please don’t try reading the King James Version ( except maybe at Christmas). The English of the King James is not modern English. So in addition to an old, eastern text you have added the complication of several hundred year old English. Get the New Revised Standard, or the New International Version, or the Common English Bible, all quite good translations. None of them are perfect, but they are all just fine.
While you’re at it, get a study Bible. I don’t mean a devotional Bible, but a real study Bible. This means there several articles in the book to help you understand what you are reading -articles about history, geography, culture and genre. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, the HarperCollins Study Bible, and the Interpreter’s Bible are all fine choices. A good study Bible will make reading the Bible a much more rewarding endeavor.
There are lots and lots of great books to help you read the Bible as well. There are so many out today that I am hesitant to start suggesting authors for fear of leaving out a “good one”. You might spend some time in a bookstore or library to see what’s out there. (And by bookstore I mean an independent bookstore or a general chain like Barnes and Noble. In my opinion the selection at store like Family Christian Books, is not very good. They stock only a particular selection of evangelical authors and there are some good authors and worthwhile perspectives missing.) Also go online and check out what Cokesbury, WestminsterJohnKnox, Chalice Press and Paraclete Press have. These are respected, denominationally associated publishers and most of what they stock will be worth your while to read.
Finally, find a group of folks with whom you can read and talk about the Bible. Look for a group where questions are encouraged and the people are able to say “I don’t know.”, “I don’t understand that either.”, and “This passage upsets and unsettles me.” If you have a group who are willing to leave some questions unanswered and live with some ambiguity, they are likely good folks to read the Bible with.
And then remember, God loves you no matter what. God’s love for you isn’t dependant on you getting the correct answers or reading the Bible perfectly. So relax a bit. Read. Enjoy it. Wrestle with it. Observe the ways the Bible stories interact and intersect with your life. You will find yourself falling in love with it.