By John Clise
The aging man sat in a swivel chair seemingly in placid indifference to the world around him with his left arm resting on his bloated belly, his chin resting in the palm of his right hand, and his right elbow resting his left arm staring at a faded red Bible his parents had gotten him the year he turned 16.
He sat pondering the physical details of the Bible. The cover was very faded, though he could still read his name on the lower right-hand corner. The binding and back of the Bible were far less faded than the cover. He attributed to the several years he’d kept it on his car. He reckoned the sun had had its way with the cover.
He thought about filling out the family tree portion of the Bible as a teenager, and how he’d goofed it up completely. His mom helped him erase the ink from the page, and then filled out the blanks in her handwriting because it was much neater than his. He also remembered the unauthorized additions made by someone with much crappier handwriting than his, and without his permission. That fact still rubbed him wrong. Plus nothing ever happened to the unauthorized person. Nothing ever did no what they did. Always held harmless in their exploits.
He sat quietly staring at the Bible. Just thinking about the meaning of it. Studying the aging leather cover without touching it. There was a spot of white paint near his gold embossed name that he had no recollection where it had come from. He found it perplexing. He scratched his forehead, but still nothing came to mind.
He studied the red silk bookmarker built into the Bible. Its end was frayed with a piece string hanging from it. He took the zig-zagged string by the end to examine it. Taking a pair of the scissors from the drawer behind him clipping off the string in hopes of stopping future threads from breaking loose as that one had.
He sat a while longer contemplating the spine of the Bible, and how it was a metaphorical analogy between the strength of the spine and the strength of God to hold things together as the spine keeps the pages in place.
As a youngster he’s been so devout in his faith. As he grew into a man he remained strong in his faith. Throughout his life he’d remained steadfast in his faith, though it often didn’t the mold or the pattern of what is expected in faith.
Someone once said to him that they thought Christians were supposed to all be cheerful, positive and loving like angels. He leaned forward, smiling, and said “I’m not that kind of angel.”
He picked up the Bible in his hands examining the gold leafed pages that were also fading. There was a small tear on the lower left-hand corner of the cover where it met the spine.
It served as another metaphor. The tear in the cover also represented the growing rip between him and God. He was cool Jesus. Jesus came to earth to pay the price for all sins through His crucifixion. The idea of a father sending his son to a brutal, violent, bloody death while he sat on his gold throne had begun to seem suspect.
God the Father was starting to make no sense to him. An all knowing, always present figure whose Will we have to abide by to get into heaven when the same figure punishes us for the sins of the first two people he created. He let children die of cancer. He let people suffer. He let conmen prosper spreading His word. He allowed his word to become perverted by idolaters. And in the end, it is always God’s Will or we don’t know God’s plan, or why He does what He does. To be honest, thinking about it gave me him a serious headache.
The only communication between him and God lately was his screaming profanity skyward and giving the clouds the middle finger. Though he really wasn’t sure why.
He opened the Bible’s cover. He saw, though he’d forgotten, he had haphazardly cut the wife’s family tree page out after he and his first wife had gotten divorced. He remembered looking at the pages that he had refrained from marking up his Bible with ink pens, pencils, margin notes, or felt tip pens.
He had a few scriptures marked with a lack in pen. He scrolled through the pages. Reading scripture here and there. He contemplated the King James Version, which he had in his hand. He contemplated how it was the Word of God as it was authorized by an Anglo King, by a committee of Anglo men he commissioned for the translation, and gave directions to on how he wanted it done. This is the same Anglo king who wanted seed his ecclesiastical beliefs across Europe under the guise of errors in a version 70 years prior. He thought it may have lost something in the translation.
He’d always enjoyed the Psalms, and had avoided reading Revelation much. He always figured that when the end came, it would be the end with nothing anyone could do about it. God’s Will when He got done playing His game here on earth.
He scrolled through the back pages that included color maps of the region where Jesus lived and died. There was a reference section of words like faith, belief, and corresponding scriptures. And the concordance was full of snippets of phrases and where to find them.
He saw the phrase “heal a broken heart” was marked with an orange highlighter. The scriptures were in Luke and Isiah. They were difficult to read due to their small point size and the dimly lit in the room.
He scrolled on landing at Psalms 114: 7, 8, which he remembered. “7Tremble, earth, at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the God of Jacob, 8who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water.” Powerful words for a believer.
It was one of his favorite scriptures. It was powerful. It showed the strength of God. At difficult times in his life he had prayed over those two verses. It seemed to give him resolve, and give him peace. It also gave him strength to get up and carry on.
He found 1 Kings: 4. “4That the LORD may continue his word which he spake concerning me, saying, If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel.” It scared him straight more than once. He needed scaring more than likely. Though lately it seemed like a lot of the Holy Father’s edicts were built on one fear or another.
He came across his all-time favorite scripture. Joshua 19: 25. “25And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies against whom ye fight.”
Perhaps he liked it so much because he loved to fight so much. He did like to fight. Maybe God was the only person he left to fight with anymore.
Fighting was part of his nature, though he’d been trying to be less combative. It seemed like that decision may have grieved his soul deeply. Whether it was fighting for the little guy; fighting for a worthy cause; telling a story no one else would; or flat out fighting authority, corruption and hypocrisy… that’s when he was the happiest. That’s when he felt alive, like he was making a difference in the world. That’s when he felt like he was doing the Will of God.
He laid the Bible on the table open to the red letter pages in Matthew scanning the verses. Matthew 7: 15-27 stuck out to him. It applicable to his current career and social situation.
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
The verses remind him of The Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces Sometimes… they don’t tell the truth.
It was late, and he had to be up early. He turned to his room taking the Bible with him. As he lay there clutching the old faded red Bible to his heart he drifted off thinking about the concept of faith, his own life, and whether the Holy Father was full of crap or trying to teach him another lesson.