When I first moved to Atlanta and didn’t have a whole lot of friends or things to do on weekends that involved other people, I picked up a few new hobbies, including painting. It was awesome! I was creating, experimenting, making a mess and doing something I had always thought would be fun but never thought I would be able to do. Most of what I’ve painted looks similar to what would come out of a third-grade art class, and I’m OK with that. I was loving it!
One week, when I didn’t have a whole lot going on for the upcoming weekend, which, at the time, was more “normal” than I wanted to admit, I went to the art store near my house, picked up some cheap acrylic paints and a canvas or two, nothing that professional artists would consider quality but enough to keep me entertained and totally appropriate for the kind of painting that I wanted to do. Saturday morning, I woke up, spread out a plastic, water-proof, disposable table cloth on my coffee table and began my latest project. I also turned on the TV. At the time, I had cable and settled on ABC’s Family Channel Harry Potter marathon. All Harry Potter, all the time. Well, at least for the weekend.
I’ve read all the books, and I’ve seen all the movies. Nothing new. Nothing shocking. Just some good background noise and entertainment while I focused on my latest crafting adventure. I kinda, sorta, maybe paid attention. I painted, cleaned out brushes, took a break to go running, probably went to the grocery store…I’m not entirely sure what passed the time for those two days. And in between the tasks at hand and the various interruptions, every once in a while, I looked up and watched part of some Harry Potter movie for a few minutes with full concentration.
It would take a minute to figure it out. Which movie is this? What character is that? Who’s that guy? Is he good or bad? Where were they again? Oh yeah… I was familiar enough with the series where I could drop in and out of the movie marathon, figure out what was going on and find it entertaining and engaging. Makes sense, right?
Several months later, I went to go see the final movie with some friends before a birthday dinner celebration. I got to the theater rather early with a few others because we wanted to save something like 13-seats all together and not end up in the front row. While waiting for people to arrive and the movie to begin, I asked a quick question about the movie we were about to see. I wasn’t quite sure on one detail because it’d been a while since I’d thought much about the grandiose story. I couldn’t remember who someone was, if he was a good or bad guy and where exactly Harry was on on the adventure. The girl who I asked responded, “Oh, I’m not sure. I’ve never seen any of these movies.”
Um. Excuse me?
“Have you read the books?” I asked, knowing she was an avid reader.
“No, should I have?” She asked.
She wasn’t kidding. She had joined us that afternoon because it was part of what we were all doing that day and figured it’d be fun to see one of these movies about which everyone had been talking. We all looked at her like she had three heads and attempted to give her a brief synopsis of the books so that she wouldn’t be too terribly lost.
When the credits rolled, I asked my friend what she thought of the movie. She said that because she was so confused, it was only so-so. That made sense. It was a story about weird people in weird places doing weird things. And she had no idea what happened in the rest of the books and movies, so this one was hard to follow.
Think back to my marathon painting Harry Potter weekend. I was dropping in and out of the movies in 10-minute soundbites and was able to appreciate what was in front of me. Yet, my friend at the final movie had sat there for over two hours and remained lost and unappreciative. The difference is obvious: I was familiar with the story so I understood the weird people in weird places doing weird things. My movie friend wasn’t. She didn’t know the characters. She had never heard of the places. And the things that they were doing made no sense to her. She didn’t know the whole story.
The sad reality is that when most of us Christians read the Bible, we read it in soundbites, like I watched the Harry Potter movies that weekend…but that we also read it with the lack of thoroughness, like my movie friend’s Harry Potter education. We discover weird people in weird places doing weird things, are baffled that we don’t understand what God is doing, get frustrated, take things out of context and assume incorrectly…and then say that it’s the Bible’s fault. The Bible itself must be to difficult to read, so we don’t bother. We go back to our comfortable soundbites not acknowledging how illogical this approach would be to any other story.
And the Bible is just that: a story. It’s the story of how God created the world and how He spent the rest of history trying to show people how much He loves them. Including us. It’s a story with all kinds of characters and events that lead up to the biggest event in world history: Jesus. The parts after that are what happened because of that great event. If we only read it in sound bites, we’ll miss out on how this epic story could change our lives. Forever.