Sally Lloyd-Jones is releasing a grown-up version of The Jesus Storybook Bible. Did you know that? It’s a testimony to the deep insight and beautiful simplicity Lloyd-Jones brought to this lovely piece of work. The chapter titled “The Terrible Lie” would be enough to set the proper tone for all future encounters with God, all future study of the Bible. I know this because I asked my son recently (after listening to the audiobook version of this particular story) if God felt any differently about his children after they sinned.
“No,” he said. “God’s love didn’t break.”
What a statement.
I find myself in a bit of a conundrum, though, when it comes time to pick out memory verses for my kids. I choose passages related to the topics we’re studying. Then, with great care, I scroll through dozens of translations looking for the best one. I weigh the options. I try to judge which is the clearest, the loveliest, the easiest to commit to memory. And then, more often that not, I choose the KJV. It happens all the time! I get lost in the poetry, the imagery, the delightful way those Elizabethan phrases roll off my tongue.
Of course, there’s a hefty dose of nostalgia influencing my decision. The language of the King James Bible is the language of my childhood. It was this Bible that I memorized from, this Bible I heard read aloud in church. (We attended children’s church only sporadically. When I was little, it was considered vitally important for children to be able to sit still through an entire service.)
I got my first nice Bible when I was nine: a Cambridge King James, bound in Indian calfskin in dark red leather. I have it still. Twenty-five years’ worth of little notes and underlinings mark the pages, and it feels very much like an old friend. I have never read consistently from any other Bible. So when I hear someone read a verse, my mind and my lips always return to the way I learned it in the King James. I can’t help myself.
Take Colossians 2:13, for example.
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;”
My word, the language, the rhythm! What about Ephesians 1:18-20?
“The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places,”
It’s too gorgeous. I have no words. (Except for “us-ward.” I’ve got that one. I need to start slipping it into everyday conversation.)
Now, for the sake of contrast, look at this. The first passage is Psalm 61:2 the way I learned it decades ago. The second is the very same verse from the International Children’s Bible.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
“I call to you from the ends of the earth.
I am afraid.
Carry me away to a high mountain.”
I don’t mean to say that the Bible should be unreadable or inaccessible to the average person. Not at all. (“God forbid!”) I only mean to say that there was something wonderful about growing up with words and phrases that felt too large, too deep, for my small understanding. I could hear words spoken from the pulpit and grasp only a fraction of them. I could read the Bible and catch just snippets here and there. And it was good for me. I was allowed to be small, to step into a tradition of faith, into living mysteries I could only guess at. I got truths with the husks still on them. They took some digesting, but they lasted. And there was always more to discover.
It’s no surprise that the hymns we sang were in keeping with the style of scripture we read. I flipped through an old hymnal to remind myself of some beloved ones I haven’t sung in ages, and it took an enormous effort not to plop down at the piano and sing through every last one. For this post, I limited myself to four. (Aren’t you proud?) But take a moment to look over these lyrics. They’re almost as rich and lovely as the verses I’ve shared.
“See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down:
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”
“I’ve found a Friend, O such a Friend!
He loved me e’er I knew Him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus He bound me to Him.
And ‘round my heart still closely twine
Those ties which bind forever.
For I am His, and He is mine,
Forever and forever.”
“Lo, how a rose e’re blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
A-mid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.”
“And though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure:
One little word shall fell him.”
Silas and I are starting off the school year with a study of ocean science (and sea monsters). This week, we performed a simple experiment to learn how sailors measured the depth of the water before computers. The method is called “sounding.” It’s a pretty archaic word nowadays, but after the experiment, I thought of the old hymn “Sovereign Grace O’er Sin Abounding.” (Sandra McCracken has a great recording of it on her album, The Builder and the Architect.) I quoted the first verse to Silas and asked him if he understood what it meant. It goes like this:
“Sovereign Grace o’er sin abounding!
Ransomed souls the tidings swell;
‘Tis a deep that knows no sounding
Who its breadth or length can tell?
On its glories may my soul forever dwell.”
It is good and true to say that God’s grace is limitless. Sometimes it’s even better to say that God’s grace is “a deep that knows no sounding.” You could stand at the edge of your ship and drop your line down and down and down and down, hundreds, thousands, millions of miles, and you would never reach the bottom. The grace of God makes the Mariana Trench look like a kiddie pool. That’s an image that took a bit more time to explore. It took more effort to unravel. But I saw my son’s eyes light up for a moment. He got it.
I am deeply grateful to those writers and songwriters who take complex truths and present them simply and clearly. Their work is a blessing to us no matter how long we’ve been believers. But the richness and complexity of the stories and songs of my childhood were also a profound gift. They were a gentle reminder that I had a great deal to learn. Bless them, they’re still sending the same message. I have many years yet, and an eternity beyond, to explore the mysteries of God, to sound the depths of His love. “On its glories may my soul forever dwell.”
Photo courtesy of Carey Pace (www.careypace.com)