Sometimes we crack open Genesis in January with a plan to read the entire Bible, only to surrender in March—trapped somewhere in Leviticus’ rules regarding the treatment of wild oxen.
There’s something deep within most of us that finds the Bible special and enigmatic. And Lent is a perfect time to pick up and dive into the Word of God again. Even if unread or misunderstood, the Bible means something. Even if our parents or grandparents didn’t read it to us, many people do still read it. And even many of those who don’t read it still think the Bible is important albeit confusing.
God reveals his love and providence to us in myriad ways. Consider a starry sky, a sunset over the ocean, or a baby’s laughter. Assuredly, the Creator is seen throughout his gorgeous creation. But God’s revelation is not limited to nature: just as freely as he reveals himself to us through created things, so does he reveal himself through his inspired word.
Written in more languages, read by more people, with more copies published and sold than any other written work in the history of the world, the holy Bible stands alone. Kings and rulers have outlawed it, wars have been waged over it, and millions of lives have been lost but also found because of it. God’s divine revelation: inspired, entrusted, and gifted to us.
No other book will ever compare. Inspired (from the Latin inspirare, meaning “breathed”) by God, recorded over a span of about seventeen hundred years by more than forty separate authors, and composed of seventy-three books of varying lengths and types—from songs to history to letters and more—the Bible is one of our greatest family heirlooms.
God’s plan for our salvation, revealed in the Bible, is played out age after age, from the dawn of history. The danger for modern believers, however, is failing to see this history as just that: his story. Even more dangerous is the failure to understand that our stories are found in and wrapped up in God’s.
Consider this: Jesus Christ could have chosen to teach us in a variety of ways. The fact that the Second Person of the Trinity chose to employ storytelling (parables) as his primary teaching tool tells us a great deal. Everyone loves a good story, and our story is part of the greatest story ever told.
As Pope Francis reminds us,
So this love story began, a story that has gone on for so long, and is not yet ended. We, the women and men of the Church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is.
There’s a reason that the Bible has been translated into every conceivable language (even Klingon, for you Star Trek fans out there). There’s a reason that when Johannes Gutenberg—a Catholic—invented the printing press, his first print job was the holy Bible. There’s a reason we still turn to one or two favorite verses to paint on a wall or tag an e-mail or scribble in a greeting card: after thousands of years, not even Hallmark can do better than “Love is patient. Love is kind.” As beautiful as the works of Shakespeare, Austen, and Hemingway are, and as beloved their characters, their words are earthbound; they are not words inspired by the Holy Spirit about the Living Word who came down from heaven.
The Bible is unlike any other book. The Bible is prayer, the very breath and life of God. It is the word of God, not mere words about God. That distinction necessitates our attention and demands reverence. That distinction should comfort you in your afflictions and afflict you when you get too comfortable. The journey to God is about joy, not happiness. Happiness is fleeting, but joy—the eternal joy of a life in Christ and life in heaven—that is eternal. We come to know that life in Christ quite literally through the Scriptures and in the sacraments. Only in knowing Christ will we come to know what it means to truly live.
As the Second Vatican Council affirmed,
Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation. (Dei Verbum 11)
At the risk of painful oversimplification, the Bible is not just the book but rather many books. The very word Bible comes from the Latin biblia, meaning “collection of books.” And while this holy book is many books, it is, in reality, more of a letter—a love letter from the eternal Father to his children. It is the story of a bridegroom coming for his bride. It is a story less about hide-and-go-seek (though Adam and Eve start there) and more about being lost and found. It’s the story of where we came from and where we are ultimately headed. Thus, knowing Scripture is truly a matter of life and death. Through the Bible, we learn not only how to avoid (eternal) death but also how to truly live.
Always remember, Scripture is the true guide to a well-lived life. Once you start to read it, your life will never be the same—because you will discover that your life is no longer yours but his:
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
This is a selection from Unleashing the Power of Scripture: A Guide for Catholics by Mark Hart (The Word Among Us Press, 2017). Available at wau.org/books