Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

When Herschel rang me up this evening to ask what I was doing tonight, I told him that I was about to achieve a lifelong ambition.

Me: “I’m reading the last chapter of The Bible. I sincerely hope that it explains everything that happens in the rest of the book.”
Herschel: “At the end, God turns out to be Jesus’ father.”
Me: “Nooooooooooooooooooo!!!”

My earliest encounter with the Bible that I can remember was in December 1976, when I was five. At infants school, we were told the Christmas story, and then we had to write it.

I had a big problem with this – I had missed the middle of the story. I knew that I had missed the middle of the story, because the kings were not properly introduced. I knew my mind must have wandered (as it very very often did at school) causing me to miss that bit.

As we were only five or six, it took several lessons for us to finish writing the story up, so the teacher kept retelling the story. Every time she did, I made a great effort to pay attention, because I really needed to hear that missing scene. Somehow however, my mind must have wandered on each subsequent telling too, because afterwards I could never remember any scene in which the kings set out, or encountered any of the many problems that they must have had on their way to Bethlehem. I mean they must have had problems getting there, right? They had to - it was a story.

When I discovered that there were also shepherds in the stable at the end, that really didn't work for me – it was blatantly just the same plotline, but with shepherds. And why? Kings bringing gifts made some sense, but the shepherds felt like padding.

There was no way of asking the teacher, because teachers sometimes got angry when you'd done something wrong, like when you hadn't been paying attention. Eventually I handed the book in with the story unfinished. This might have turned out to be one of those occasions when the teacher would forget to mark our books... (it wasn't)

Today, I've been teaching English to children for about two years, and one thing I regularly do is rubbish how badly written some of the stories that we study in their textbooks are. One of them is about a king who is secretly bald. How did he get a wig made in secret? Wouldn't he have gone bald gradually? How did he start wearing a wig without anyone noticing any difference, unless he had started wearing it while he still had an identical head of hair, in which case why start wearing it? I hope that I have instilled in them a healthy mistrust of the media. How did I get onto this? Oh yes, the Bible...

From ages 7-11 I attended a church junior school. I can only remember one word of RE lessons there – "Egypt" – because Lee and I used to pronounce it "Eggy-put". Somewhere around that time, I do remember trying out a Bible notes magazine - Quest. The problem there was that it was really extra school work. That didn't last long.

Come age 11, at a secular secondary school, Religious Studies lessons were 35 minutes a week, and generally about other religions, such as life as a witchdoctor. Really – I had to write a homework entitled "My First Day Of Training To Be A Witchdoctor."

God bless the Gideons though. At our weekly assembly they offered us all a free New Testament, which contained a complete two-year reading plan. I changed to a gentler Christian school where we got 3 hours of Christian Religious Education a week, and my grades significantly improved. Oh, and I completed that two-year reading-plan!

After that, I began making my way through the Old Testament at home. Leviticus was uphill work. The last thing that I can remember before I lost interest and realised I'd stopped was King Solomon getting visited by the Queen of Sheba, so I must have got at least as far as the middle of 1 Kings.

Moving to New Zealand at 33, I made a conscious decision to read the Bible regularly again. Initially I read whatever I wanted to. As a jobless missionary living on providence, I found the account of Jesus' early days in ministry something that resounded with me.

I tried Bible notes books again, such as Guidelines and Every Day With Jesus. Having unloaded umpteen boxes of the Word For Today at RBG, I wound up getting given back a copy at Parachute 05 while I was there working with Rhema.

I wound-up sticking with that series, partly because it was so easy to read, but mostly because it was free. Ultimately though, I started to find the attitude wearing. The smug phrase "Sounds familiar?" cropped up a few times too often in contexts where I didn't think I was quite as guilty as they assumed I was.

I find it hard to turn down anything free, but took a deep breath, and stopped taking those.

I read Christian books for a while, such as Everything Belongs, Who Stands Fast and even Back in Time, looking up all the Biblical references when I got to them.

One day I plundered all my memories and Bible notes books and wrote up a definitive list of all the books of the Bible that I had no evidence of having fully read. I set my own reading regime. I began reading one chapter a day, repeating the previous day's chapter beforehand to encourage it to sink in. By now I was reading the Bible out loud too, as I found it easier not to get distracted. (yep – my mind still wanders a lot)

I deliberately varied the translations, hoping to get different perspectives. I gave up reading the older translations, because they were too much hard work to decipher. came in very handy.

Finally, tonight, I read Zechariah 14, and with it, finally nailed the whole thing. I started it aged 12, and finished aged 37.

It's going to be odd, never again finding bits of the Bible that I've never read before.

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2 comment(s):

At 2:59 pm, Anonymous Rhett said...

You clocked the bible!

At 8:27 pm, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Worse - I think towards the end I may have been subconsciously racing YOU!


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