“Let all that has breath praise Yah. Hallelujah!” (Psalm 150:6)
This is the last verse in the book of Psalms, and it was the last verse I read to complete a more than five-year journey through the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).
It is wild for me to think about where this Bible reading challenge, given to me years ago by my pastor, has taken me. Since deciding to abandon my original “Bible in a Year” reading plan for a slower, more reflective and intentional pace, I’ve ended up writing just over 250 Facebook posts reflecting on my reading.
Those posts led to this column for Canadian Mennonite. Many of my reflections have also been the foundation for sermons I’ve preached over the years at different churches.
I have tried to balance being disciplined enough to read and reflect regularly while also not beating myself up for seasons of slacking (or maybe “slowing down” would be a more gracious term). I’ve usually only missed a couple days. Occasionally I’ve slacked for a few weeks, but I’ve never worried that I would drop it altogether.
As I’ve neared the end of the Hebrew scriptures over the last few months, I’ve had a growing excitement for reading the gospels and eventually the rest of the New Testament.
Reading almost exclusively from the Hebrew scriptures for five years has, in some ways, helped me appreciate the anticipation of Messiah. It feels like my reading has been an extended season of Advent, living in that space of waiting a little longer than the traditional one month in December each year (though still a minuscule time period when compared to how long Israel waited).
The Old Testament is wonderful, beautiful, strange, difficult and deep with meaning and truth, but I’ve struggled with the violence and the vengeance. I’ve struggled with the way enemies are spoken of, the way women are spoken of, and, sometimes, the way God is spoken of.
I realize there’s a slew of reasons why this is so, and I acknowledge and appreciate them—sometimes I even understand them—but I can get tired of the hard work of reading and interpreting the Bible.
At times I wish it was easier. I understand why people prefer to focus on the nice parts, like the first part of Psalm 149 (“Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the faithful’s assembly”) and ignore the more difficult passages, like the end of that same Psalm (“Exultations of God in their throat and a double-edged sword in their hand, to wreak vengeance upon the nations, punishment on the peoples . . .”).
There’s a naive part of me that thinks the New Testament will be easier to read—nicer, cleaner, more peaceful, with fewer problematic verses—because Jesus is all about loving everyone, right?
But I know better. I know that reading the New Testament will present a whole new set of challenges: all the things Jesus teaches that I conveniently ignore, all the things I wish Paul didn’t say, all the teachings that threaten my comfortable, selfish life.
I hope that it won’t take me five years to read the New Testament. Ultimately, though, I’m happy with whatever pace I settle into, so long as I continue to engage meaningfully and the Spirit continues to meet me in my wrestling.
Joshua Penfold lives in New Hamburg, Ontario, and can be reached at email@example.com.