I was probably ten years old.
A blond-haired bowl cut chunk of boy.
She was probably 13 years old. I didn’t know her name. She didn’t know mine.
I sat in the back. Safe. Bored.
She stood on stage. Vulnerable. Nervous.
A Nice Public Flogging
It was a Sunday night church Bible Drill Competition. The sanctuary seemed uncharacteristically packed. Deacons, rubbernecks, parents, peers, everyone accounted for. Her competition was two boys.
The final three.
The first reference was called and the frenzied rustling of pages began. The first person to get there lunged forward and proudly recited it for the whole auditorium to hear. The next was called. And the next.
2 Chronicles 7:14!
Ancient renderings from Nehemiah the adults in the audience had never heard. An interesting subplot was taking center stage. The two boys were running away with the competition. The poor girl fumbled her way through every challenge.
Not once did she step forward.
Her older brother was sitting in the pew in front of me with a group of friends. His peers snickered as every squandered verse ran through her fingertips. At one point in hushed brotherly rage he whispered, “Shut Up!”
As the debacle unfolded her shoulders drooped. Defeat washed over her countenance. I could feel the white-hot embarrassment emanate off of her. She likely felt every eye from the faceless shadows peered at her; the spotlight on her ineptitude.
At the time I didn’t know what to think; except how bad I felt for her. Now I think:
What a Stupid Petty Tradition
What did this competition teach that girl? That drive by knowledge of a reference and using the Bible as a silly sports ploy is what church is about? That the Christian life is namely about performance?
That night I learned I sure as heck wasn’t going to be a part of any such game. If I felt that much anguish from the back row I can’t imagine what she felt.
Children should be taught not to drill the word but to dwell in it (Colossians 3:16). If anything they should be led to handle what they hold with care and reverence, not rip through it as some recreational means to an end.
The Pharisees were the “Bible Drill” Champions of Ancient Israel. They flaunted their knowledge of the Law with brash eloquence. They wielded their Scripture swords like a drunk pirate, always lazily pointing outwards, never inwards to their own black heart.
Scripture was just a means to an end for them.
I’m informed by generally good scholarship that these teachers of law had the whole Pentateuch memorized by the time they were this girls age…thirteen. The only claim to memorization I had at that age was Blues Traveler’s mildly popular song “Hook”: “Suck it in, Suck it in, Suck it in, if you’re Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn…..”
The Verse That Powns Pharisees
This all brings me to one of my favorite verses in the bible. It’s Jesus’s words to the Pharisees:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life;
it is these that testify about Me; (John 5:39)
From Genesis to Maps. Every Jot. Every tittle. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The eviscerated goats on the altar. The weeping prophets. The immaculate temple. The lovesick king in Songs of Songs. The unlikely shepherd boy who slayed a giant for his people.
The Bible is a progressive unfolding of the person and work of Jesus. The Old Testament had veils and shadows, we have the substance: Christ! If we study the Bible and miss Him we miss everything. That’s why I shake my head when I see a preacher endeavor to open the word, open his mouth and a few quaint stories, funny jokes, principles only, and practical vignettes come out.
People don’t need a little humor and new laws, they need Jesus. Period.
The grace He freely gives will both humble the proud Pharisee, and lift up the perplexed Bible drill loser.
I don’t know where that girl is today. She may not even remember that night as vividly as I do.
I do know this:
She won’t have to find Jesus in a fit of staged performance anxiety.
The Jesus the Bible testifies of can find her just fine. Right where she is. He already won the only victory that matters in her life.
Bible drills be damned.
What “unique” traditions did your childhood stream have growing up?