David Carlson: Looking for anwers in an old Bible

In a well-needed attack on the clutter in our attic, my wife found a box of memorabilia that my parents must have given me when they cleaned out their own house.

I am sure that I hadn’t opened this box for nearly 50 years.

In the box was the first Bible that I was given as a young boy. I opened the Bible to find my name written in the best cursive I could manage as a 12-year-old as well as the day and month when I received the Bible.

I wish I could say that I remember receiving the Bible, no doubt the same leather-bound, red-letter King James Version that others my age were given by the church of my youth. I wish that I could write that last week I found the Bible looking worn, well-used, and filled with handwritten notes in the margin, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

The truth is that I don’t remember this Bible at all. I suppose that my present self could castigate my younger self for this, but I decided instead to consider what the Bible revealed about who I was as a young person.

The most obvious insight that the Bible revealed is that I had no idea as a young person that I would go on to earn graduate degrees in New Testament studies after college graduation. I had no idea as a pre-teen that I would end up with Bible after Bible in my library. I had no idea then that I would go on to study Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Bible. I had no idea that I would take classes, then teach classes, on the various ways the books of the Bible can be interpreted.

My teenage self had other ideas. I dreamt of playing professional baseball — never a realistic dream, it turned out, but still a dream. When in high school and under the influence of a teacher, I thought of following in his footsteps and teaching history at the high-school level. In college, my plans changed again; this time my aspirations were to become a lawyer.

But something else began in college that, in the end, changed everything. Looking back now, I realize that I was gently invited by professors to read the Bible in a new way. Those who gave me my first Bible years earlier had presented the Bible as a book of answers to all the important questions of life. But in college, I began to ask questions of the Bible and about the Bible.

And I slowly realized that the Bible itself was filled with people who asked their own questions and lived at times in a kind of holy uncertainty that I recognized. From that moment on, I allowed myself something that I have also encouraged in my students — to be curious when reading the Bible and to have no fear of asking questions.

And I still have questions.

I have no doubt that my 12-year-old self would find the path I followed an odd one. But I’ve met hundreds of people who have taken a similar path. Some have a love affair with the Bible as I do. Other friends have an equally strong love affair with the Qur’an, Tanakh, Upanishads, Guru Granth Sahib, Buddhist Sacred Texts, and other scriptures.

Perhaps we who love sacred scriptures are odd. Or perhaps we have discovered a secret. The scriptures of the world are like ever-flowing fountains, offering water that never fails to satisfy. If you don’t believe me, open the scriptures you know best, and see if your thirst is not satisfied.