I entered the fellowship hall, and was welcomed by what can only be described as an excited buzz. About 25 of us gathered for our first discussion session on what we have read so far in our Bible-in-a-Year study, and already, before any formal discussion began, people were talking. I heard snippets of conversation, “It’s exciting!” “I’ve read the Bible so many times, but I’m still discovering things I’d never noticed before.” “This is really fun!” Music to this pastor’s ears!
The buzz didn’t wear off once we finished (a delicious!) breakfast and started our official discussion. I invited people to share one word that describes their experience with this so far. “Exciting.” “Intriguing.” “Enlightening.” “Challenging.” “Thought-provoking.” What a wonderful place to start our exploration together of God’s Word!
These first stories in the Bible are some of the most well-known of the Old Testament. So far we have made it through primeval history (creation, flood, Tower of Babel) and the beginning of the stories of the patriarchs (Abraham/Sarah, Isaac). But everyone agreed they discovered details they had not remembered in previous readings. We talked about what to do with some of the factual discrepancies (did Noah bring seven of each pair on the ark, or just one pair? Did God create the animals and then Adam and Eve, or Adam, then animals, then Eve?). We talked about some logically troubling points, like where Cain’s wife came from if not Adam and Eve? We reflected on particular stories that we had heard differently this time around. We considered some reflection points, like when Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian servant girl (who bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael), gets sent out into the wilderness, she encounters God, and she names God, “God sees me,” and then names her son, “God hears.” How do you experience a God who is a God who sees us and hears us, for all of our darkest and brightest characteristics and actions?
A bulk of our time was spent considering whether understanding these well-known stories as anything but factual starts us down a slippery slope, on which anything in the Bible can be taken with a grain of salt – where do we draw the line on fact or fiction? Many people agreed that, even if these stories aren’t factually true, they still portray a truth about God and about God’s relationship with us, and the beauty of telling this truth in story form instead of factual form is that for our lifetime and for generations to follow, they can continue to speak to God’s people, enlightening them and working in them and moving them to grow in faith. (Similar to how Jesus’ parables do!) But we also agreed that what one person hears in Scripture might differ from what someone else hears in Scripture, and that’s okay, too. God speaks to all of us differently, and to say one is right and another is wrong is unhelpful; indeed, we grow in faith by sharing our differing understandings with one another.
We started our discussion with one-word reactions to the beginning of this adventure through the Bible. If I had to choose one word to describe our first gathering, I would say: “Eager!” What a fruitful conversation we had this morning, and from what I heard, I wouldn’t be surprised if the conversation continued as people left, and I hope it will continue to do so throughout the week and throughout the year.
If you were unable to join us for this first gathering, fear not! Join us whenever you can, and we will grow in faith and knowledge together. We are better together!
Our next gathering will be January 17 after worship at each respective church. Our next joint gathering will be February 13 at St. Martin. Fellowship and light breakfast will be at 9:30, followed by Bible study at 10-11am. Hope to see you there!
Below are a couple resources we handed out to help navigate these first few books of the Bible: