Pastor Dillon Burns reflects on how you are never too young or too old for the Bible to teach you about the purpose and meaning of life.
A few weeks ago my wife and I had our first child. It has been a joy and an adventure since we brought him home and became parents for the very first time. My life is filled these days with the changing of diapers and trying to convince a small human that it’s time to sleep in those moments when he would least like to sleep. It’s been a journey filled with all sorts of wonderful moments, of course.
One of my favorites is the chance to get to read to him. Now, he’s only a few weeks old. He hasn’t the slightest idea what is happening when he’s read to, I’m sure, but I enjoy it just the same – the chance to share some stories with him that I loved as a child and particularly some Bible stories.
We got him a children’s Bible; it’s a board book that has a number of different stories from the Old and New Testaments. So, he and I started working through it a little while ago, and I’ve been enjoying it immensely. It’s just a two-page spread for each story but it tells about stories like creation, Abraham and Sarah, and Moses and the Exodus.
Just the other day, we got to the two-page spread on Jonah. I opened it up and I said to him, “This is one of my favorites,” because it is! I love the story of Jonah. It took all of two pages to read it and we got to the end and it said, “You can say I’m sorry to God.”
For each of these stories, it gives this little sort of summation, a takeaway for a child. And so in the Jonah story, Jonah refuses to go to Nineveh to preach the message that God has told him to preach, choosing instead to run the opposite direction, to defy God’s desires for him, and ends up getting swallowed by a large fish.
He apologizes – repents – so that he can eventually make his way to Nineveh. And so the story, as told in the children’s Bible, is pulling on that thread – to say that one of the messages is that we can say, “I’m sorry,” to God. I thought that it was at once a very insightful takeaway of a perfect child-sized bite and yet lacking so much of what I love about the story. I thought, “You’re going to sum it down to just that? That’s it?”
It occurred to me that this is what is so wonderful about having scriptures that are so frequently stories.
Stories do this wonderful thing. You can learn them once – you can learn the characters and the plot – and yet they can continue teaching us over and over again as we draw more from them.
I wouldn’t tell you today that the whole of the Jonah story teaches that we can say, “I’m sorry,” to God,” though that’s perhaps a good starting point. But there’s so much more to it! And so we learn the story at first and as we go on we can continue gleaning more from it. If I were to go through some of my old Bibles where I’ve made notes or journals where I’ve made notes about scriptures, I am certain I would find that my understanding of what the scriptures are teaching has changed over time. In some instances, perhaps, I’ve made an about-face (for I know I have!) where I thought it used to mean one thing and now I see it means something else. In other instances, perhaps I have simply pivoted or gone deeper. But in every instance, I am sure that what I feel and believe today from the scriptures is different than I would have thought a decade or more ago. Hopefully, it is different from what I will think a decade from now.
What’s incredible about the scriptures, and particularly the stories, is that once we learn them we’re not done learning. They continue teaching and guiding and sharing. And so we begin as children, perhaps very young children with a single takeaway, and it’s a good place to start, but one day we might end in an entirely different, deeper place.
Friends, what are some of your favorite Bible stories? Have you changed your understanding of them in the time since you first learned them? Isn’t that a wonderful thing about scripture and the journey of faith?
May the peace of God be with us all this day.
~ Shared with permission from Extraordinary Connection, a collaboration of clergy from across The Michigan Conference with the aim of providing daily encouragement and immersion in God’s word. Pastor Dillon Burns serves Manchester United Methodist Church.