Especially for those of you who are believers, I strongly encourage you to get into a systematic study of the Bible. This should include not only reading the whole thing cover to cover (you might take more than a year to do it), but also supplementing your personal reading with expert commentary. For example, once you get used to his style, you might really enjoy Vernon McGee. I travel a lot back and forth from Lubbock to Houston, and now the 9 hour trip zips by because I load up my iPod with McGee’s commentary.
To give an example of how much my own understanding of the God of the Bible has changed, let me relate a personal anecdote. Back when I was in grad school, but before I had gone through the experiences that rescued me from atheism, I wrote an article for LewRockwell.com in which I defended the website from someone who had launched a quite patronizing attack.
So the person attacking LRC had written something like, “Those whiny libertarians are banging their high chairs and yelling that they think taxes are TOO HIGH. God bless ’em.” (That’s a paraphrase.)
Now you must understand, I was an angry young man at the time, and this guy’s column really set me off. So in response to his “God bless ’em” line, I wrote something like, “The people at LRC would never ask their God to fight their battles for them.”
What I was trying to do was contrast the serious people who were warning about civil liberties and the warfare state, with the smart aleck Republican thinking we were babies and needed to defer to the adults in the room who knew the real issue was the payroll tax rate.
But now when I think back to that episode, it’s funny to me just how ignorant I was of the Old Testament–even though I had nominally read a lot of it when I was younger. In fact, the children of Israel were SUPPOSED to let their God fight their battles for them. They got into trouble whenever they DIDN’T rely on God, and instead tried to solve their problems through their own strength or alliances with pagan kings.
In conclusion, even if you are a believer and even if you have kinda sorta read the Bible cover to cover once in your life, I strongly encourage you to begin a systematic study with an expert commentator. You will begin to see themes and–if your experience is like mine–you will no longer see such a huge contrast between the super nice guy Jesus and that mean God of the Old Testament. Instead the whole book will become a seamless tale of God’s faithfulness in the face of His fickle children, who must ultimately be saved not because they earned it but because of His unmerited gift. Even the “heroes” of the Old Testament are often scoundrels, and their only admirable trait is that they occasionally have amazing faith that God will achieve mighty things through them.