WHY READING THE BIBLE IS LIKE WATCHING MATCH OF THE DAY
Mundane and humdrum periods in life have their own intrinsic merit – and they prepare us for the bigger moments which would otherwise lack back story
The enduring appeal of BBC TV’s Match of the Day (MoTD) owes something to the innate traditionalism of football fans but also to its ability to condense the action from each game into a handful of minutes. This enables a 0-0 draw in mid-January between Stoke and WBA to look like a penalty shoot-out in the Champions League Final by distilling all the drama into a bite size. Bone crushingly boring games receive a TV make-over on MoTD.
In fairness to fans of Stoke and West Brom, most games contain large periods in which nothing much happens. To the viewer, seventy minutes from each Premier League fixture in one programme where the ball is passed back, crosses go wildly astray and forwards are caught in the off-side trap would ensure MoTD soon lost its allure. Yet these are the seemingly endless minutes in which the whole match is shaped, tactics unfolded and weaknesses probed. Without these quiet periods, the goals and near misses we watch would lack substance, however appealing they may look.
We need to read the Bible more like we consume MoTD. In scripture we see God’s purposes revealed, but much is narrated to us in terse, rapid-fire prose which gives the impression of break-neck speed. But this was rarely the case. Abraham heard God periodically – by which we mean, every few decades. What happened in-between? Your guess is as good as mine, but we have to believe these decades were lived and contributed to the moments of drama.
Moses and the liberated Hebrew slaves wandered in the unforgiving desert for forty years, going round and round like a big team trying to unpick a lesser one that has come to ‘park the bus’ on the pitch. Very little of those four decades is shared with us, even though 1 Corinthians 10:11 says ‘these things happened to them to serve as an example…to instruct us’.
The narrative of 1 Samuel rattles along, depicting a desperate David on the run from a homicidal Saul. One scene morphs into another as David takes more and more extreme steps to evade capture. Though we don’t know for sure how long this story was played out, it seems likely to have happened over several years. Presumably David wasn’t always living on adrenalin, so what happened in these quieter moments?
The Book of Psalms contains many prayers of lament where the poet begins in despair before reaching some kind of resolution with God by the end. We read these at speed, but they represent a work of God over weeks, months, possibly years. What happened in the gaps in the life of the believer?
Simeon only appears in the Gospels, to receive the child Jesus into his arms in the Temple and to bless him. He was probably an old man. Was there no meaning to the rest of his life, or did it give substance to that one encounter by years of quiet, undemonstrative prayer?
The Acts of the Apostle, pre-eminently, moves with a pace normally reserved for an episode of Jack Bauer’s 24. But this is Luke’s pared-down interpretation. What exactly happened during those interminable, exhausting journeys Paul made, the ones that didn’t end in shipwreck?
If we don’t factor in those other, unrecorded moments, like a drab first half at the Britannia Stadium, can we really understand how God might be at work? Not to allow for this leads us to assume we only meet with God in defining events and experiences. The mundane is thus assumed not to be of God and we quickly discount these gaps as unspiritual or evidence of a wilderness experience.
We need to own the humdrum and search for God’s loving, active presence in it. These periods have their own intrinsic merit and they prepare us for bigger moments in life, ensuring we are primed and ready. The routine is spiritual. We have to play the full ninety minutes to appreciate the drama. So did the heroes and heroines of faith. We have to think into the gaps in scripture to appreciate what is really happening.
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