I take paper for granted. Though I am notorious for misplacing notebooks, I know that I am never very far from something on which I can write. In many a pinch, I have used the backs of receipts, old envelopes, and even gum wrappers, yet I am always able to scrounge up something. For me, scrap happens.
In terms of the history of the world, I am living in a privileged period. Not too long ago, relatively speaking, paper was a commodity, and few people had the luxury of acquiring the knowledge, skill, and ability it took to write. Yet even in those times, stories managed to survive, thrive, and spread. Such is the story of the Bible. The people who experienced the stories recorded in the Bible did not commit them to writing. Those people, and their children, and their children’s children, repeated those stories. They sat around fires recounting the mighty acts of God that brought them out of slavery and led them to thrive in a Promised Land. Eventually, someone took the initiative to begin jotting down the parts they remembered. They wrote stories of the great heroes of old – people like Abraham, Moses, and David. Even the stories about Jesus circulated amongst communities for years before someone thought about putting them in a scroll. There was limited access to paper, and relatively few people possessed the skills and time needed to write.
Yet the Holy Spirit actively worked in the midst of people and communities to keep the stories circulating, and over the course of thousands of years, those stories managed to come together in the form of the Bible, the marvelous collection that recounts God’s saving activity in history. Thankfully, the Bible is within easy reach for most of us.
A recent visit with Bob and Kristi Rice, missionaries from the DR Congo, highlighted the reality that we live in a place that affords us tremendous access to the Bible. Aside from the several print copies I own, I can access the Bible on my phone anytime I want. In Congo, Bob and Kristi help people purchase a Bible through a subsidy program. Through this program, they are able to sell Bibles, which cost around $12, for around $4. Bob and Kristi shared stories of people who scrimped to save enough to cover even the subsidized cost; those stories emphasized the thirst these people have for the Word of God.
The stories reminded me of my own experience on one of my trips to Zimbabwe. During a visit our team made to a small village, we presented a Bible to the villagers. Their jubilation was palpable as they all broke out in song upon receiving the Bible. Later, I asked our guide why there was such excitement among the people of the village. He told me they were so happy because they only had one Bible in their village and it was missing pages; now they would know what happened on the missing pages.
The people of our church, and our part of the world, have virtually unlimited access to the Bible. It is a privilege and a gift. Like any gift, though, it bears the burden of being taken for granted. As I shared with a small group a little bit of the history of biblical transmission, how the stories were circulated orally before being written, we marveled at how they came to survive. Yet it also raised a challenging question for me: If we were to somehow lose the Bible, and all of our access to it, would our community, like the communities of old, be able to keep the stories alive? I believe the Holy Spirit would work among us to ensure they remained with us, just like the Spirit kept the stories for generations before they were first written. However, how easy of a time of it would the Spirit have?
Thinking about this question has inspired in me a renewed passion for the Word of God. The Bible is a gift and a treasure, not a showpiece or knickknack. It begs to be opened, devoured, savored, and digested so that it becomes part of our DNA. It pleads with us to rewrite its contents on our hearts. It speaks to us, and all we need do is listen.
Although I take paper for granted, I pray I never undervalue the pages of Scripture.