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The Bible’s message is not just in words

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By David Whitlock

If you were to insist that what makes the Bible a special book is not its outward appearance—whether it’s bound in leather or cloth, colored bright pink or plain brown — but what’s inside — its message, meaning, and purpose, I would heartily agree.

But then again, the very presence of the Good Book can not only speak to the soul, it can even save a life.

Just ask Dayton, Ohio, bus driver Rickey Waggoner. Recently, while making a mechanical repair outside his bus, three young men, presumably in a gang, approached Waggoner and shot him twice in the chest. Luckily, or more accurately, providentially, Waggoner had a Bible in his pocket. The two bullets, which otherwise would have killed Waggoner, were found lodged inside his Bible.

Waggoner was then able to fend off the assailants, who fled. (I always heard the devil runs from the word of God.)

“There was obviously some kind of intervention involved in this incident because (Waggoner) should probably not be here,” Dayton Police Sgt. Michael Pauley said.

Don’t you think Waggoner will display that Bible in a prominent place?

Picking it up and pointing to the holes left by the bullets, he might say, “Let me tell you about the time this Bible saved my life.”

Waggoner’s story is dramatic and rare. It is more often in less sensational ways that the Bible’s appearance — that is, its cover, the texture of its pages, the feel of the book in the hands — evokes memories of God’s directive hand in life.

As a child I saw Dad carry his red, leather-bound New Testament to church Sunday after Sunday. I had forgotten about that particular Bible until I was helping Dad after his knee surgery last October, and there it was, unobtrusively resting on a shelf in his bedroom. Years of use had worn away the luster on the leather; it was now cracked and faded, and the gilded pages tattered. But that didn’t stop me from gingerly opening it, and in so doing, stepping into the past , into the church sanctuary I grew up in, breathing in the smell of the oak pews, listening to the choir sing the old hymns and the preacher exhort from the King James Bible.

“You take it,” Dad told me when I showed it to him at the hospital.

It wasn’t until I got back home that I noticed, when thumbing through it ,the quote he must have scribbled during a sermon: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

Inside the cover was Dad’s name and a date, 1961.

Dates in a Bible can act almost like journal entries, signifying spiritual markers in life’s journey.

The first Bible I actually carried to church is dated Dec. 25, 1963. It’s a children’s Bible with a sketch of Jesus and the little children on the cover. I was getting to know the Bible as a book of God stories, mainly about a man named Jesus who loved little guys like me.

That Bible was replaced exactly three years later with a red imitation leather Bible, given to me by my grandparents. Now I was growing up: my new Bible resembled Dad’s.

When I graduated from high school, Mom and Dad gave me a Thompson’s Chain Concordance Bible, my first study Bible, bound in “Deluxe Leather.” A couple of years later, I held that Bible with sweaty palms as I preached my first sermon while doing mission work with my parents in Bangalore, India.

Dates also lined the margins of Mom‘s Bible. Lord help the preacher who warmed up an old sermon from the back burner. Mom had him dead to rights with date and notes of when he last delivered it.

On occasion I come across a Bible whose owner has passed from the scene.  Our church custodian found a Bible tucked in an obscure corner of the building. “Look at that,” Charles pointed out: “Dec. 12, 1913.” I wondered how it managed to go unnoticed for all these years. Did anyone miss it?

And it’s not just the dates that tell a story. You can tell a lot from what’s inside of a person’s Bible. A friend brought me an old Bible. It was filled with sermon notes, clippings, and gospel tracts. How did it end up in a used book store rather than with a family descendant? Was the owner the only one who carried it?

Some Bibles are given an early retirement, no longer available for daily use.

And sometimes that’s not the owner’s choice.

I cherish the little, blue leather New Testament Mom and Dad gave my brother, Dougie. His short life ended abruptly in a head-on collision. 

Inside the cover, under “Name,” is his, “Dug.” And under “Nearest Relative” are the initials “DW,” referring to me — his little brother and constant companion.

I wish that little book could have redirected an errant automobile like Rickey Waggoner’s Bible stopped a speeding bullet.

But my longing plunges us deep into the mystery of tragedy and hope that’s found in “the strange new world within the Bible.”

And for that story, we have to turn its pages and read it.