Comedian Lee Mack was interviewed on Desert Island Discs some time ago. He was asked which book he would like to take—you’re allowed to take the Bible, the works of Shakespeare and one other. He chose Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, but it was his comment about the Bible that intrigued me.
He said, ‘I’m glad you get the Bible, because I would read the Bible. I think it’s quite odd that people like myself, in their forties, are quite happy to dismiss the Bible, but I’ve never read it. I always think that if an alien came down and you were the only person they met, and they said, ‘What’s life about? What’s earth about? Tell us everything’, and you said, ‘Well, there’s a book here that purports to tell you everything. Some people believe it to be true; some people do not believe it to be true’. ‘Wow, what’s it like?’ and you go, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never read it’. It would be an odd thing wouldn’t it? So, at the very least, read it’.
There’s a strange thing in Ireland: For such religious a country, people don’t read the Bible. In fact, many have been left with the impression that they shouldn’t, or don’t need to. The impression given is that it’s a book for specialists, and they should just take the word of opinion formers— whether it be clergy or authors like Dan Brown and Richard Dawkins.
And it takes a comedian to point out the obvious: That’s ‘an odd thing’.
I’ve been reading Melvyn Bragg’s book, The Book of Books, on the impact of the King James Bible. Bragg is no great believer in the truths of Christianity, but he points out over and over again the powerful change made by having the Bible in the common language of the people. The people were keen to read it for themselves; the church’s clergy prior to this were reluctant to let such a powerful book into their hands. Yet when the people read it, they could measure what they were hearing against what was in God’s word and know if it was true. here is such reticence about reading the Bible. I sometimes talk with people who feel let down by church but who are hesitant to look at the Bible for themselves, preferring just to muddle on in the hope that everything will be OK. Others are struggling with life and trying to get through by their own strength, unaware that the Bible has help to give. And others think it irrelevant without ever opening it, or giving it more than a cursory glance. My heart breaks for these people. I know there is life-giving water in God’s word. I know it is fresh and clear and beautiful. But I can’t make them drink it.