The modern Christian’s reading habits when it comes to scripture are intriguing. Speaking in the broadest categories, it would be safe to say that many, if not a majority of Christians spend most of their time in the New Testament and very little time—for a variety of reasons—in the Old Testament. This is not to imply that the New Testament is any less valuable, wonderful, or true than the Old. Not at all. The Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles all have their value. However, there is a difference in language between the New Testament (especially the Epistles) and the Old, and I do not speak of the fact that one is predominantly written in Hebrew, and the other Greek.
The language I speak of is almost as dramatically different as Hebrew and Greek are different from each other. The language of the Epistles which form a large part of the New Testament is exactly that: that of epistles, of letters. They are, one could say, almost purely prescriptive in nature. They address problems. They address practicalities, which is all well and good and certainly needed, and valuable. The language of the Old Testament is predominantly that of Story. By story, I do not mean fiction. I mean story, in the sense that a really excellent, gripping history of say, Winston Churchill, is story. It is largely descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. We see, if the teller of the story has done his job, the good, the not so good, and the downright bad in the life of a person.
Think of the films in our culture that are always huge successes. You don’t hear about documentaries, or “nonfiction,” or even the thrillers and mysteries, making billions of dollars at the box office. It’s films like The Lord of the Rings, Jurassic World, Avatar, and the Star Wars franchise that are predictably enormous hits. Story is the language that humanity in general seems to speak the best—across cultures and continents. And it seems, the more fantastic the story, so much the better.
Now let us return to the aforementioned scripture reading habits of the average 21st Century Christian. Prescriptive material is certainly good: if you have a problem it is natural to want a prescription for it—a solution to the problem. However, one does not survive on medicine (prescription). Medicine can address a specific problem or abnormality. But one cannot live on it. One lives on food, or in the case of scripture “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” If one looks at Scripture, the largest portion of it (the Old Testament) is nearly entirely Story. It’s not medicine, it’s food. It has flavor, texture. It nourishes. It warms—or chills, the soul and spirit. It shows people at their extraordinary best, and their depraved worst. It shows the interaction of God with people. It’s descriptive.
What stories the Old Testament gives us! It gives us the tragic fall of Man from perfection and relationship with God, and even in that story foreshadows the redemption of Man. It tells us of a man named Abram who is called by a God he never knew, to go on a radical and seemingly insane journey to a land he’d never seen. It tells us of Saul, a man who is anointed king and tragically descends into outright disobedience and rebellion against God. It tells us of David—a man who starts life as a shepherd boy and eventually becomes Saul’s successor. It tells us of 450 prophets of Baal who had a confrontation with a man called Elijah, and more importantly of the confrontation between their god and Elijah’s God. It tells in poetic foreshadowing in Isaiah of the incarnation of Christ and of his sacrifice for fallen Man. We have in the Psalms extravagant, raw expression of emotion and beautiful worship. We have in the Song of Songs an almost embarrassingly honest look at romantic love in it’s different expressions.
The Old Testament speaks a language that in all of humanity seems to be the most natural. And yet, it is the Old Testament that is probably the most neglected by Christians, with the exception of perhaps the Psalms. If Story is the language that overall comes most naturally to us, then why would we not spend more time reading the tremendous stories that the Old Testament gives us? Absorb these stories and replay the lives of the heroes and villains that it paints portraits of. Medicine has its place and is of great help and even comfort, but food is just as necessary: for nourishment and for enjoyment. Come. Eat and drink deeply. Enjoy. Ponder. Be filled.