I learned to swim in the shallow end. Though my brothers often tried to throw me into the deep end, it is amazing how much fight you can put up when faced with imminent drowning.
My mother, of a gentler school, told me to lay flat on top of the water. She would hold me up, while I kicked my legs and moved my arms. One day, without me realizing it, she let go. To paraphrase Forest Gump, “I was swimming.” Soon, the shallow end of the pool was my kingdom. I learned to push off from the side and zoom around the pool. But I stayed away from the deep end. I knew I wasn’t ready.
One day my brother Steve and my cousin Bob seized me without warning and threw me into the deep end. I had no time to prepare, no time to fight. I sank, but then instinct kicked in and my legs and arms began to move. I broke the surface of the water, laughed at my brother and cousin, and swam around the deep end, frightened no more.
When people start to read the Bible, they often want to start in the deep end. They want to know if God really made the world in six days, and if Jonah was really swallowed by a fish. They get so busy trying to stay afloat, they miss the story.
This is God’s story in the Bible: God made the world, we messed it up, and because of His great love, He has been working to save people from their own destruction. That’s the shallow end.
I’m not saying you should avoid the deep end. I am saying, make sure you build some confidence in the shallow end first. Know the basics of the story. Know the character of God. Then go to the deeper stuff.
You won’t always find simple answers. The universe isn’t a simple place and God is not a simple being. Why does the Bible tell us stories about God’s judgment, wiping out whole nations? Dallas Willard once said, “Hell is simply the best God can do for some people.” Maybe the same principle applies. Maybe destruction is simply the best God can do for some people.
It’s important not to be arrogant about our own time and culture. We assume our culture’s values are the correct ones. The Bible, however, is a book for all peoples, for all times. Some teachings in scripture may not make any sense to us, but were perfectly clear in the time they were written. They may also be clear in a culture halfway around the word has a different outlook than we do.
Any honest person has to admit there are parts of the Bible they don’t understand. I’ve been studying the Bible as a follower of Jesus and as a pastor for a long time. There are still stories I don’t get. I still read some of the laborious laws in the Old Testament and ask, “What is that doing there?”
But if the Bible is truly God’s book, wouldn’t it make sense that I may not understand all of it?
If you’ve never studied the Bible, start in the shallow end. Read the teachings of Jesus. They will help you, whether you believe or not. Don’t be afraid of the deep end; God will let you know when you are ready to tackle some deeper challenges.
The main thing is: Get in the pool. Open your Bible. Read. Let God speak to you. Dive in.