I am still messing with fonts and layout on this thing, so bear with me...
I recently finished a book called The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. (And by recently, I mean about an hour ago.) It was written by a guy who decided to try and spend one year of his life living the Bible as literally as he possibly could. And here's the kicker: he's not really of a particular religion. He is Jewish "in the sense that the Olive Garden is an Italian restuarant, which is to say, not that much." As for his beliefs, he is a self-admitted agnostic. His struggles with belief are apparent throughout the book. He decided to spend the first nine months following the Old Testament rules and then the last fourth of the year following the New Testment.
At times the book is hilarious - like when his wife gets tired of the "you can't sit on the same seat as a woman who has had her period for 7 days rule" and sits on every chair/couch in the house. At times it was moving - like the experience he had dancing with the Hasidic men for a Simchas Torah. And sometimes it was a little disturbing, like when he bought and had a chicken sacrificed in a ritual called kaparot. It was also frustrating - he is so close-minded to some things, like even the possibility that creationism could have some truth to it. He is very honest about the fact that he just can't get his mind to go there.
Overall, though, I found the book sad. That would probably surprise the author, a humorist who obviously got a lot of meaning out of his year-long journey. But I thought it was tremendously sad. This is a man who spent hours and hours every day for over a year (including prep time) pouring over Scriptures, seeking spiritual advice, using every Bible commentary and aid on the market - and he didn't get it. He never got it. He never let it in. He never let the truth of the Scriptures penetrate his heart. He talks about passages he really like, passages he really admired - but in the end, he didn't get it. All he saw were words. None of them penetrated his heart.
He came close a couple of times, and as I was reading it, in my mind I was cheering him on, because I knew God was drawing him in - but he walked away. He admits that he is a control freak and that religion means giving up some of that control on your life. And he's just not willing to part with it. All that study, all that time devoted to following the rules of a God that, in the end, he's still not sure exists.
I wish I could sit down with him. I wish I could open the Scriptures to him and say, "Look, look deeper. It's not about the rules. It's about the relationship." It is such an example to me of what happens when we dig into God's word without the Holy Spirit guiding us. He never let the Holy Spirit in to show him what this was all about - that the Bible is God's story of trying to get our attention, to proving to us that we can't do it on our own, that we need His redemption if we are to have any hope.
It's also an example of how this culture, with all it's Bible aids and Christian bookstores galore, still doesn't get it. Commentaries and study guides won't get you there. We have more Biblical study equipment available to us than anywhere in the world - and yet, sometimes I think we have the deadest limb of the Church in the Body of Christ. In other parts of the world, they don't have all that stuff. All they have is Jesus, and He, as it turns out, is all they need. So maybe we need to pay some attention to that.
I'm still pondering all that God has to show me from this man's sad, sad journey into nothingness. But in the meantime, A.J. Jacobs just made my prayer list. He thinks he spent a year trying to find God - I think God spent a year trying to call him. And I'll pray that in the end, God wins.