One of the most notoriously difficult parts of the PCUSA Ordination process is the Bible Content Exam. They changed the test several years ago and the passing rate plummeted to 20% (it's since risen to 58%, but still, most people fail it at least once). I was a Christian Scriptures major in undergrad and I am oddly good at trivia, so this test was basically made for people like me. I was pretty confident about my bible knowledge, but I knew I had a lot of studying to do. My friend Alexandra and I spent the entire month of January studying together, making flashcards, reviewing concepts and details, and encouraging one another.
January was a long month of trying to get straight which prophet was during the time of which King in what kingdom, but the studying started to pay off. For all my big talk about being a Scripture major, there was so, so much I wasn't familiar with. I couldn't tell you the difference between most of the epistles or what the prophets were about. Sure, Dr. King loved Amos, but why? And what does it matter to me today? The deeper I studied, the more surprised I was to find a wealth of comfort and conviction for me today.
It shouldn't be a surprising revelation, but the Bible is SO RELEVANT to today! It's unbelievable how little we read of it considering how much it has to offer. I am absolutely including myself in the guilty party there. I'm guilty of turning to the same few well known passages because it doesn't take much work to to turn there. But we are missing out on so much of God's word!
I was surprised to learn that Habakuk is not like many of the other prophets. It's a dialogue between the prophet and God. Habakuk is deeply upset about the violence and evil of the world and angrily asks God how these can serve God's purposes.
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgment comes forth perverted. (Habakuk 1:2-4)
That could be my prayer today! God, destruction and violence are before me in this desolate land that I once proudly called home. Justice never seems to prevail! God, how could this be a part of your divine plan for this world? These are my laments, just as they were for Habakkuk. It's both dismaying to see the same cries of anguish thousands of years earlier, and comforting to know that God was there in their hour of need and will be there in mine as well.
Or what about Micah? He's much more than the great passage from chapter 6 verse 8 that we're all familiar with. He's a prophet of the marketplace, addressing economic injustice and the way it destroying Judah. This was as important to God as it was to another socialist Jew we're all pretty familiar with these days (#feelthebern). I've always known this was an important theme in scripture, but I was surprised at all the places it turned up when I studied these often forgotten passages.
As Christians, we believe the Word of the Lord is living and active. It's one thing to read that Hebrews and another to really see what it means- it means that the words that God spoke to the nations of Israel and Judah are the same words that God is speaking to us today. The spirit works through the reading of scripture and gives it new meaning for today. It means that we are not alone and that scripture is for the people of God today and for all time.
The meta-narrative of scripture is that God, in all of God's infinite love, created a beautiful world with very good creations in God's own image. God gave those human beings the choice to love God in return, and they choose not to. Instead of starting over, God chose relentless love for an unfaithful people. God showed love through divine intervention, the Law, the Prophets, and finally through sending God's own Son, Jesus Christ to die as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. God paid the ultimate sacrifice for our wrong choices and that means we are free to live in relationship with God, both now and forever. That's the good news of the gospel!
The Word of God is a beautiful gift to us, no matter how much we let it gather dust on our shelves. I spent a month digging deep and cursing the details, until one day I wasn't frustrated by the details anymore. I was excited to see God in those details and thankful for a reason to try and my best to learn. If you don't believe me that it was worth it, I'll just say that I started this before I took the test, but my friends and I all passed the exam, so it definitely feels worth it now