I can’t read. When I say, “I can’t read,” I mean, “I shouldn’t read.” When I say “I shouldn’t read,” I mean that if I want to get anything done at all—if I want to be able to show up for work on time, get the housework done, cook meals for my family, exercise or anything else, I should leave the books on the shelf. When it comes to reading, I have very little self-control.
Reading was ingrained in me from a very young age. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading to us or watching her curl up on the couch with a good book. She always took a book with her wherever she went. I have vivid images of her at the table, a sandwich in one hand and a book in the other. As a result, I was desperate to start school so I could learn to read. After I started school, I would bring my readers home every night and sit at the kitchen table, stumbling through the pages out loud as my mother cooked dinner. Our holidays and weekends were full of trips to the library, where we would load up bags full of various books: fiction, non-fiction, cooking books, travel books, science books, autobiographies, and a whole host of other topics. As I became a better reader, these books began to wield extraordinary power over me. I first recognised this when one time I picked up a book, only to put it down at three o’clock the following morning. I really shouldn’t read books!
The history of reading
Reading is an ancient pastime. The written word is the primary way that humans have transferred knowledge, stories and new ideas. To read is to open your mind and learn about another person’s imagination, biases and internal dialogue.
Reading is almost as old as language. Around 2600 BC, the Sumerians created cuneiform script. It was used to transcribe business dealings and narrate the conquests of kings. It was reserved for an elite group of scribes who had been trained in an elaborate schooling system to read and write using this specific form of communication.
Since then, writing has progressed, recording elaborate stories, detailed historical accounts and important legal documents. It preserves the human experience and is accessible to any literate person. In its infancy, reading was a performance—the earliest written texts were always intended to be read aloud. The first instance of someone “reading to themselves” isn’t recorded until much later. It would have been entirely appropriate to enter a library and hear a cacophony of sounds as readers verbalised the books in front of them.
The Book of books
Over the millennia, many books have been written, but only one approaches universal appeal. Thought leaders, artists, academics and ordinary readers have studied it for centuries. This book is the Bible, which has stood the test of time, transcending language, culture and creed. When it comes to reading, the Bible is the epitome of “the written word”. Its inclusion of narrative, poetry, prose, songs, laws, sermons and letters makes it one of the most diverse pieces of literature in human history. More than 40 authors contributed to this tome with varying writing styles, purposes, backgrounds, generations and even languages. Each literary style is entrenched in its own rules, context and structure. The various books in the Bible—from sacred Jewish literature to first-century narratives—have a unique purpose and message of their own while also contributing to a broader message.
A tapestry of meaning
With such a mix of styles across different eras in history, you would think that the Bible would be a jumble of random and incompatible ideas. But herein lies the beauty of the Book: it has an overarching, cohesive narrative that is supernatural in nature. From Genesis to Revelation, we see an unveiling—an exposure to the themes and personhood of God. Each page, though different in style or language, whispers the truth about Jesus. For the reader, the joy is in discovering a fuller picture of God with each turn of the page.
Beyond this, a larger story spans the book’s entirety: God’s creation and the ultimate rescue of humanity. The Bible is more than words on pages. It is the transformational story of human history. Each author weaves their thread into a great tapestry and illuminates God’s desire to draw people back into a relationship with Himself.
For every avid reader, there is often a book or two that may be described as “life-changing”. It might be a biography, an essay or a story that keeps you up till late at night. Once you have finished the book, your life is forever changed. The Bible is one of those books. Its impact is unparalleled, its transformative power is unexpected and those who read its pages can’t help but come away changed.
Try it for yourself. Let the story unfold, find the overarching narratives, explore the changing literary styles and examine the historical records. If you’re not sure where to start, ask for help. Google a Bible study guide or seek out a trusted friend who’s more familiar with the text. Most importantly, allow it to speak to your heart. Let its words soak into your soul, and your life will be transformed with new meaning and purpose.
Lyndelle Peterson is a pastor and church leader in Melbourne, Australia, where she lives with her young and growing family.
If you have questions about the Bible or would like to learn more about it, email email@example.com or visit signsofthetimes.org.au/help