Why I Don’t Want to Read the Gospels in January

If your view God doesn’t line up with Jesus as presented in the Gospels then your view of God is off.

I said this in front of a group of people as I taught at Celebrate Recovery

in early December and it’s been on my mind ever since.  Is my view of God consistent

with what I see of Jesus in the Gospels?  Who is Jesus?  And what would it mean to imitate him?

So I made it my goal to read through the Gospels in January.  Despite the fact that I’ve been pretty good about getting started on my other goals for January I’ve danced around the edges of this one.

Why?  I’m afraid.  And I think I know some of the reasons why:

1.    I’m afraid nothing will happen.

I am afraid that nothing significant will happen in my soul as I read.  I’m afraid that, after reading the 89 chapters of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John my only thought will be, “Huh, well that was interesting,” and I want so m

uch more.  I want to get a fresh glimpse of who Jesus is.  I want my view of God to be shaken up.

I don’t want to feel like I’m reading a textbook, or like I’m reading a meaningless book for the 100th time (like I feel when I’m reading board books to my toddler).  I don’t want to have these grand hopes of meeting Jesus and then feel like a failure when he doesn’t show up because it certainly couldn’t be on God when the Bible doesn’t shake me to the core, could it? I ask this tongue-in-cheek…but I don’t really know the answer to this question and I do know that it causes me to feel shame and to fear failure. I don’t want to fail.

2.  I don’t want to be uncomfortable in unpredictable ways.

I am okay being uncomfortable in the ways I want to be uncomfortable but I don’t want to be uncomfortable in ways I don’t want to be comfortable.  I think I’ve come to peace with the thought of God challenging me to give away my stuff, we’ve already chosen careers that come with low income and, as much as I like my stuff I don’t think it owns me.  And I’m coming to peace with limiting my commitments and being responsible with my food choices.  But I’m afraid he’ll challenge me beyond my introvertedness or suggests that early morning hours are the best times to spend with God or I’m afraid that he’ll tell me that my carefully cultivated values are wrong.  But I’m most afraid of something that I can’t predict.  I guess, I’d just like to be uncomfortable within in the boundaries that I’m comfortable with.  That’s okay, right?

3.  I don’t want to turn this into a checklist or “use” it for something else.

4.  I didn’t know which version of the Bible to use. #firstworldproblems #englishlanguageproblems #academicsnobproblemsWhen I finally started reading Luke last night I didn’t even get through the first chapter because of all the journaling I was doing.  And I thought about different lessons within the overall message of the story and I thought of devotionals that could be written and sermons that could be constructed and…  My mind started going a million miles an hour. I saw echoes back to the story of Abraham and Sarah and thought about Hagar and Ishmael and dramatic foils.  I was impressed with prominence of the Holy Spirit in Luke 1.  I thought of Elizabeth and barrenness and type scenes, and the experiences we bring to the text and hermeneutics.  I thought about SO MUCH.  I got kind of overwhelmed and had to stop.  I want this reading to be about me and Jesus, not writing a devotional for some imaginary congregation that I may someday lead.  I don’t want to get distracted by producing.

Around day 4 of not having cracked open the Bible yet I began to think that I might want to read from The Message.  I know that a paraphrase can help those of us who have read and studied the Bible for years to see it in a different light but it’s just not academically respectable. I didn’t want to appear sub-academic.  But on day 5 I caved and began reading.  Today I read this from Sarah Bessey about defending her use of paraphrase in her recent book, Jesus Feminist,

“I notice when Bible verses are quoted or set apart in books, readers often skim though them or skip right past, already convinced that they know what they say because they’ve read them hundreds of times.”

To this is say, “Guilty as charged.”

She goes on,

“My use of The Message is deliberate: I want you to read these words, not skip past them.  And if I have to use a paraphrase to ensure the words aren’t familiar to you, then I’m happy to endure the derision of scholars and purists for that choice.”

So I say to myself, “If using The Message helps you to read the words by ensuring they aren’t familiar to you, then be happy to endure the derision of scholars and your own standards.”  To be sure, when I get really excited about something I read in The Message, I often quickly turn to a trusted translation to see how much interpretation is involved in the paraphrase, but it has been valuable to use a paraphrase, even for just the one day that I’ve actually read from the Gospels.

Four things I’m afraid of. 

Zero good reasons to avoid reading. 

I will continue with my goal of reading the Gospels in January.  Of course I’ll have to pick up the pace a little.  I’ve read ¾ of a chapter in four days and at that rate it would take me over a year and a half to read four books!