Sitting on the edge of my bed, I rubbed my fingers along the imprinted letters on the hardcover bible in my hand. Within moments, I moved down toward the floor, knees first. With my head lowered in reverence, I spoke some version of these words:
‘God, I don’t believe that you would lead me wrong. When I open this bible, I am asking you to steer me away from any part of it that isn’t the truth. Steer me away from any part of it that comes from the minds of the men who wrote it and doesn’t represent what you want me to know. Help me to see what is true and ignore what is not. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.’
Then I opened the book and started at the beginning.
By this time, my interaction with God had evolved from a desire for protection when I felt fear and help when I was running late, into a simple child-like wonder. Questions filled my quiet moments. From my first musings of the day to the fading thoughts before sleep, I pondered question after question and found exactly zero answers. These might sound familiar: “If God created everything, who created God? Does God have parents? Is God really a “he”? Why did Jesus have to die? And who sacrifices their own kid anyway?” I was cultivating a curiosity about God that was bordering on fever.
This curiosity wasn’t limited to Christianity. Along the way, I had learned about Christianity’s role in the African slave trade, and the various critiques of it as ‘the white man’s religion’ and a religion based on a book written by men. And as a result, I had become cautious, if not outright skeptical of Christianity. So, I did a little exploring. I made my way through some of the Quran in a feeble attempt to understand Islam and had a fleeting interest in other religions, like Santeria and Buddhism. But Sunday after Sunday, as I watched churchgoers in my neighborhood joyfully greet each other on my way to work, I felt a different pull. I wanted what they had.
In the smiling, sun-kissed faces of the people flowing in or out of that small church around my way, I wondered whether I was glimpsing the solution to my loneliness. I wondered if I was seeing a place where I could belong.
I didn’t ask my family. I didn’t know what their lives should look like exactly. But I saw their flaws up close and decided that they had missed the mark. I expected perfection.
My struggle with depression gave me a pre-occupation with perfection. I saw and was grieved by my own flaws and, somehow, came to believe that if I could fix them, happiness would swiftly follow. I didn’t know then that happiness was a fleeting feeling, not a permanent state. I fully expected to get to the bottom of this God-thing and amass the knowledge I needed to not only live, but live fixed. And so, the mingling of my loneliness, questions and judgments led me to that moment in my bedroom and that prayer.
Now free from the thee’s and thou’s of King James, I was quickly drawn in by the story-like structure of the passages in Genesis. It wasn’t completely new information, but in reading it from the source, and in common English, I could see nuances that I hadn’t understood before. Now, with firsthand knowledge, I could imagine the creation of the world and its inhabitants with a crisp realism that had felt unreliable before.
It all felt fresh and new, and I wanted to learn. Now I’d be lying if I said I read all of Genesis that day (LOL). But my curiosity would drive me to pick it back up day after day.
What I remember most about the experience of reading the bible with new, curious eyes was a sense of shock. As I read about Adam and Eve’s disobedience and subsequent blaming, Cain’s murderous rage, Noah’s drunkenness, and Abram’s cowardice, I was disgusted and perplexed that they would be written about in the first place. If you’ve ever seen the 80’s movie, The Never-Ending Story, you can imagine my puzzled expression as I looked up from the book to a God I could not see and said “What?!”
Again, I had questions. Why did God keep blessing these people? Coming face to face with these folks and their faults, I didn’t get what made them special. All I could see was how they failed most of the time. They failed at obedience, failed at being honest, and failed at holding themselves back from the ugliest inclinations, like jealousy and violence. At the time, I couldn’t see why God would want anything to do with them, much less actively intervene to make them prosper.
I didn’t realize that the story that Genesis was telling wasn’t really about them, at least not solely. Eventually, I would realize that what I was reading was God’s character on display.
I knew I was a mess. But honestly, in the moment, I thought theirs was a next level mess. LOL. I didn’t see myself in their problems, at least, not at first. What I did see though, was that I could never be God. I didn’t have the patience! I hadn’t even gotten to the midpoint of Genesis, and I was already through with the world.
God’s habit of patiently cleaning up their messes, picking them up and dusting them off, and blessing them again and again made little sense to me. But it wasn’t too long after this that my initial judgy shock blended with the mistakes and missteps of living in the world to birth a little empathy in my heart. Eventually, I would come to understand that I could look at how God treated the aforementioned folks as a lesson on how God could or would treat me. But then, I had another question, ‘Why?’