Dry Eyes

At the beginning of the year, I downloaded several bible reading schemes from Ligonier Ministries. You know the sort of thing: the bible divided into daily portions, so that you can work your way through it, rather than just dipping in at random. The one I chose also divides the books of the bible like this: Gospels And Epistles; Chronicles And Prophets; Pentateuch And History Of Israel; Psalms And Wisdom Literature.

Nothing remarkable about that, you may say - except that I’m not reading the bible, I’m having it read to me, by the actor and broadcaster Max McLean.

It’s a good performance, though Mr McLean’s pronunciation of the names of biblical persons and places is unconventional, and the presence of ambient music is obtrusive at times. If you want to try something similar, you don’t have to pay for it: there are several recordings of the whole bible, in various versions, which you can download for free from the Internet Archive.

Apart from the obvious benefits of bible reading, there are other things about using this method that you might not expect. A familiar text, one that you’ve used for years, will suddenly leap out at you. “Oh! Is that where it comes from?” You’d forgotten all about its context; that is, if you’d ever known it in the first place.

It reminds you that the bible has that most valuable of literary qualities, the ring of truth. Try this: find John, chapter 20, verse 11, and read on from there, out loud. When you get to verse 15: “Supposing Him to be the gardener...”! You just couldn’t make it up.

It can be a very immersive experience. Going through Judges, you find yourself arguing with the characters and then shouting at them when they won’t listen to you. “Samson! Why, oh why?”

And then, as well as being an immersive experience, it can also be painfully intense. Turn, if you will, to Isaiah, chapter 63. Read it out loud. See what I mean?

You don’t see? I’m sorry about that.

Years ago, I attended a Good Friday service at a Baptist church. The seating was arranged on three sides of a square, with desk and lectern in the middle of the fourth side. In that way, you could see each other as well as what was going on at the front. There was nothing much of note, until we came to the reading. It was, of course, an account of the crucifixion.

The reader read without a great deal of expression. Nevertheless, the account took hold of me. I stopped following along in my bible and lowered my gaze. Then I closed my eyes, but that didn’t stop the tears. When it was over, I wiped my eyes with my handkerchief and looked up again. As we stood for one more hymn before the minister began the sermon, I looked from person to person, and from face to face. They wore all kinds of expressions: there were smooth looks and smiles, bored faces and blank stares; but, somehow, not one single person seemed to be at all moved, in any way, by what we’d just heard.

Oh well: in the church today, that’s the way it is. Comfortable seating and central heating? Nothing wrong with that. Dry eyes and cold hearts? That’s not the way revival starts.

The New Year will be here before you know it. I’d recommend this method of bible reading to anyone who cares to try it; and you’ve got enough time to gather together the things you’ll need, over the next few months. May I suggest one more item to add to your Christmas List?

A new box of handkerchiefs.

You never know when you’ll need them.