7) It is the world’s best-selling book – but the Ikea catalogue has a bigger annual print-run
Everybody knows the Bible is the world’s best-selling book of all time. Estimates are that more than five billion copies have been printed since 1815. However, in 2012 the Bible was apparently outstripped by the Ikea catalogue. 212,000,000 copies of the flatpack furniture freebie were printed, outnumbering Bibles by about two to one. I’ll leave it to you to decide which is the better read.
8) Ricky Gervais is right: it doesn’t mention Twitter. But it does have something to say about it
When someone had the temerity to suggest to Ricky Gervais on Twitter that the Bible spoke to every part of life, he quickly retorted: ‘Oh really? Where does it mention Twitter, then?’ (or something like that – Twitter’s limited search facility means I can’t find the exact tweet now).
Strangely enough, the Bible – which was written between about 3,300 and 1,900 years ago – doesn’t mention Twitter by name. Or iPads. Or The Beatles or V2 rockets or Jane Austen or the electric telegraph or ice cream or William Shakespeare (or does it?) or the United States of America or the Hundred Years War or Emperor Constantine or all manner of things that happened after it was written. Funny that. Why would it?
I don’t know where people get the expectation that the Bible is supposed to be a Back to the Future-style magic almanac of every specific thing that will ever happen (I daresay that would make it rather longer than it is now). But that doesn’t mean it has nothing to say about them.
Twitter may not have been around 3,000 years ago, but the human urges it draws on were: desire for relationship, connection, significance; ego, pride, vanity; the temptation to abuse, threaten, demean others; community mobilisation, selfishness, compassion, self-expression. These things don’t change, and the Bible – through stories, wisdom, poetry, warnings, teaching and more – speaks powerfully to all of them. I’d suggest Ricky Gervais could learn a lot about Twitter from Proverbs, for example.
9) It’s got bigger fish to fry than ‘pick up your litter’ (but do that too, kids)
A few years back, Bible Society did some research into how people were using the Bible. One of the scariest/funniest/saddest examples was that of a teacher who had to do a lesson on the Feeding of the 5,000. The moral of the story they landed on? When the people had finished eating, Jesus and the disciples gathered up 12 basketfuls of leftovers, which is a very responsible example of avoiding littering. So, er, pick up your crisp packets. After all, WWJD…
In some ways, I find this anecdote quite charming. I love how different people find different things in scripture. And maybe you could extrapolate out from the Feeding of the 5,000 to a biblical theme of humanity’s stewardship relationship to God’s creation. But you also can’t escape the fact that the litter-picking lesson is a sadly ‘thin’ reading of a remarkable passage.
What does the account say about Jesus’s character? What might it signify about his role? Might it drive us towards bigger considerations than whether or not to pick up rubbish? Yes, the Bible can speak to immediate and specific concerns. But we should also look for how it continually tells bigger stories, challenges bigger systems, asks bigger questions, fries bigger fish.
As Jesus warns the Pharisees in Matthew 23: “You give to God a tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practise, without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain a fly out of your drink, but swallow a camel!”
10) You don’t have to be a Christian (or a member of a certain political party or of a certain income bracket or a genius or anything else) to engage with it
The Bible is not only of interest or value to people who would consider themselves Christian. You don’t have to sign up to a particular set of political or economic or credal propositions before exploring scripture. There’s no ‘you must be at least this tall to enjoy this ride’ sign. It’s for everyone.
One of the first things I’d call an encounter with God came when I read one of the gospels as a book-loving seven-year-old. I learnt tons working through Luke with one of the ‘tearaway’ teens when I did my gap year as a youthworker. Jesus found that the most powerful insights often came from unexpected places. So don’t tell me only certain types of people can handle the Bible.
Of course we should aspire to be wise and faithful in our dealings with scripture. But our scripture talks about a God to wrestle with – one whose word “is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say: ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say: ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it (Deuteronomy 30)”.
And the approach to the God of the Bible looks more like a curtain torn in two than a velvet rope – like a rock rolled away, not like one waiting for us to supply an ‘open sesame’ right answer password to get in.