by Kevin O’Brien, brand manager for Study Bibles and Bible Reference at Tyndale House Publishers.
Sometimes it all seems like too much. Life presses in, and I am going to implode under the pressure.
It’s not supposed to be like that.
I know better.
I mean, I really know better. Not sort of, not I think so. For real.
I was in church before I was a week old. Gave my life to Christ before I started school and was always the “good kid,” whatever that means. Sure, I had my doubts in junior high and was silently, scarily rebellious in high school. I am by nature a skeptic. Faith comes hard for me. And yet I believe. I went to a Christian college, changed my major to pastoral studies my freshman year, went on to seminary for two master’s degrees, and did some more grad school in theology after that.
Knowledge. Got it.
I’ve built my life on the Bible. On the idea of the Bible. On the knowledge that it not only matters, it’s true. Really true. Stake-your-life-on-it true.
Still, for twenty years I have been haunted by a question a professor asked after I had given a short sermon in a preaching class: “Kevin, you clearly have the text. My question is, does the text have you?”
How do you answer that question? How do you know?
Life, not the classroom. That’s how.
My second son was diagnosed with autism at 4 years old.
What do you do with that? Does the foundation hold? Do I really believe? Did I simply get over my rebellious phase and follow the path that a good firstborn child follows or did something capture me? I have asked myself that question a lot over the past decade. I have wondered in silence and loneliness—and very much out loud as well. I have had my doubts and defeats, stress and helplessness along the way.
I cannot fix this. Not by a long shot. I cannot fix it for my son or my wife or my other children. I cannot fix the past or the present or the future.
But I can trust. I can hope. And I have since the beginning, since the day that we first heard the word “autism” attached to Nathan’s name. The day I came face to face with the reality that I actually do believe this stuff—God has captured me. But the pressure remains. Autism hasn’t magically vanished.
I have all this training in the Bible and it can still be hard for me to catch a glimpse of what God is up to sometimes. Still its truth has worked its way down into my very soul. Sometimes in surprising ways. Like the day we first heard “autism” and I didn’t panic. Didn’t cry out, “Why me?” I was able to say, “That’s Nate.” Not because I am better or more spiritual or even just numb. But because I actually believe this stuff. I believe that God is who the Bible says he is. That he is for us. That he wants us. That he is big enough to take care of the things that we cannot see past.
Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the word of God is alive and powerful.
I have known this all my life. I have caught glimpses along the way. But it took Nate’s diagnosis to truly open my eyes to just how powerful God’s Word really is. To open my eyes to the fact that this living word points me to the Word—the one who doesn’t just save me from or for some future moment but in the messiness of the here and now. In the mundane routines of life. In the expectations and failures and hopes and dreams and, yes, even in autism. This message has sunk down into me, however imperfectly. It matters.
That’s why I make Bibles. I want to help people to see what is going on in its pages, to drink deeply of its message and hear its call. Ken Taylor, who created The Living Bible and started Tyndale, was often asked what the best Bible was. His reply was always the same: “The one you read.”
It’s often easier for us to say we believe the Bible than to actually read it. We half remember Bible stories from our childhood (and would be shocked at what is really in—and not in—them), we struggle over hard names and wonder what the point of Leviticus is anyway. Sometimes it just feels too hard. Study is for people who went to seminary and who know Greek. It’s stuffy and boring and takes the mystery and wonder out of our faith. It doesn’t help when people like me with years of training are tempted to turn the Bible into a textbook. You know, the kind of book you are supposed to read but don’t? The kind that bewilders and puts you to sleep?
It doesn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t be that way. The Word of God is alive and powerful. We need constant reminders. Nate has been one for me. But even so, it’s easy to get caught in the routine, the day to day.
For the past couple of years I have gotten to be a part of an amazing project. We started with Taylor’s simple premise and asked ourselves, what would it take for people to want to study the Bible?
Not textbook study. Love-letter study.
The kind of study that sinks down in so that when life happens we have an anchor, not an answer.
What if we used color and photography, images and art to open our eyes to what God is up to?
I got to be a part of a team that went through the entire Bible asking what we should (and could) illustrate well. I got to rediscover the wonder of this thing we call the Bible, watching firsthand as each of us caught a glimpse of the breadth and the depth of God’s love for us. Remembering that this is his world, that he invites us to be a part of it. He carries us home when we wander, tells the father of an autistic child that yes, he can handle this, too.
I want to help people understand what the Bible is all about. Because in all of my crazy, messed-up life, in all of my knowledge and doubt and fear and wonder, I believe it is true.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I also got a reminder that the process is never done. Every day I have to open my eyes in wonder.
Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.
Kevin O’Brien is a nerd. A full-blown liked school, stayed there far too long, Dr. Who–loving, bookworm sort of nerd. Who also won the lottery when he married a former cheerleader. (Yes, it really can happen.) He also happens to love hockey enough that he married a Canadian former cheerleader. He is a father to three kids, an ordained minister who currently serves as an elder at his church in the far western suburbs of Chicago, and a brand manager on the Bible team at Tyndale House Publishers (which is a fancy way of saying he does product development and marketing all rolled into one). He served as managing editor for the Illustrated Study Bible.
This was originally written in 2016.