When the Bible Is Boring6:34 AM
The book of Nehemiah always fascinated me. When I was a kid, my Texas megachurch pastor preached through it during one of our first years attending. I know this, because I fell asleep every Sunday. Perhaps the guilt of not paying attention created a curiosity about it. Or perhaps it's interesting because Nehemiah himself is interesting and he tells his own story in first person -- a novelty in Old Testament literature.
In any case, as I followed my read-the-Bible-in-however-long-it-takes plan, I read Nehemiah. After the the second or third list of unpronounceable names (repeated in Ezra), I stopped and asked God, "Why did You include this?"
What good are the genealogies? What good are the detailed lists of how many camels and cedars of Lebanon one had? What good are the censuses? What good are the temple plans? How could a simple girl find any sort of application or comfort in lists and centuries-old measurements?
So I asked why. I knew that piety hinged upon my ability to stay awake between Parosh and Hatipha, but I've never heard of any pious person specifically setting out to memorize the list of returned exiles. Still, I wanted to honor the Word. I didn't want to skim through just to say I read it. Perhaps there really was something behind the lists and the dead people whose stories were never told.
Or maybe...maybe I read the Bible wrong?
We call it -- or I should say they, the ones who told me -- God's rulebook. God's guidebook. (Which makes me think of football and hiking, respectively.) We read it to know how to live. We read it to apply it. It's supposedly very practical -- but genealogies aren't very practical. They don't affect how I live daily life. And I can't think of a way to apply them.
With this view, I feel cheated when daily Bible reading ventures into the downright dull -- the lists and the measurements and the goods.
But I don't think the Bible can be or ought to be summed up as simply rules to live by. Christianity, after all, isn't about a list of rules. It's a relationship -- a relationship that in the end affects everything. Strictly speaking, the Bible is the Word of God -- the Word of God. The God we have fellowship with. The God we know and love.
If I had nothing to do and thought really hard, I could tell you all the mundane details of my sister's life -- I know her that well, and I love her enough to notice those things. But since I do have something to do and because my sister is reading this, I won't disclose those details. They're important -- they make up part of her life -- they affect our relationship, even, though by themselves they aren't interesting at all.
I think we should approach the boring parts of the Bible like that. In themselves they're words on paper. In the context of this is God's Word and it's part of a great story and God actually saw this happening, they take on new meaning. They don't reveal any great theological truth (other than that God cares about the details, which is huge). They won't impact our lives. We can't apply them or benefit from them in that way.
They're merely part of the narrative of God's sovereignty. They're the periods and parentheses in the story. By including the boring, the Bible solidifies the reality and historicity of its contents.
Oh, and the other neat thing about lists of returned exiles? You can get a head start on naming your kids.