The Dreary Passages — finding God in the dull parts of the Bible

I love the Bible. But not all of it.

I know I’m supposed to, but there are parts that I struggle with. And the parts I struggle with most are the parts that cause my mind to wander and my eyes to droop. And the worst offenders in my book are the endless seeming lists of names in the first chapters of 1 Chronicles and the detailed tribal boundaries in the last half of Joshua. Talk about dull!

But interestingly, those have become important passages to me in recent years.

Almost three years ago, I went on a trip to Honduras with Agros. Three years before, Agros had purchased the side of a mountain and had taken applications from families living in the slums of San Pedro Sula to start a new village on the mountain.

When I visited this new village of Bella Vista, our team toured the groves of plantains and the coffee and cocoa bushes growing along the side of the mountain, preventing erosion and providing cash crops. I listened to one of the men talk about how three years before, he’d walk his kids to school and carry them as he waded through a ditched filled with open sewage before heading to his job as a day-laborer filling trucks with rock by hand. Now, this land was his. He was saved. Body and soul.

Later that day, we took part in a celebration for three families which had paid off their 10-year loans for their property in an amazingly quick three years. But what struck me most about the celebration was when the entire title deed for each family’s property was read aloud. It was exactly the same as those dreary chapters at the end of Joshua. But now I understood it.

These families loved these boundaries, because they were tangible expressions of the salvation they were living in every single day. The land they lived on and farmed was a significant aspect of their salvation, just like those former Hebrew slaves settling in the Promised Land. Salvation wasn’t just a personal, interior experience. It was the land under their feet. It was the homes they lived in. It was the crops growing in their fields.

The change in my reading of those long lists of names in 1 Chronicles, Numbers, and elsewhere in the scriptures took place the day I graduated from Regent College. Elmer Dyck, who was the dean of students at the time, paused before calling us one by one to receive our diplomas.

He said, “Lists are my favorite passages in the Bible, because lists are people. Real people.” Every person is named. Every person is known. We may not know them, but our Lord does. And that means that I, too, am named and known by my Lord.

My name may mean nothing to you. And that’s quite fine. Because I know that my name is known by our Lord. There is no such thing as just a list, because every list is shorthand for unique lives lived before the one who knows and loves them intimately.

So, may these dull and dreary passages come alive to you as well as you fall in love with the place God is saving you in and in love with the lists of people you are named among.