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Seattle Pacific University
Spring 2007 | Volume 30, Number 1 | My Reponse

Undone by the Word

By Kathy Henning

Kathy Henning
Kathy Henning
I was an English lit major almost before I learned to read. From grade school through graduate school and beyond, I was smitten with the great British writers of yore — Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Dickens — the list goes on. Immersing myself in their splendid poetry and prose was for years my life’s first purpose.

Five years ago, though, my perspective began to change. On New Year’s Eve 2001, I resolved to read the entire Bible — all 31,173 verses — by the end of 2002. Before that time, except for a few psalms and proverbs, I’m not sure I’d ever read a single chapter of the Bible all the way through.

It’s ironic that it took me so long to begin reading the Bible, because I’m a preacher’s kid. My father was an Episcopal priest from England, so I grew up steeped in Anglicanism. The worldwide Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church, is known for its majestic liturgy, a liturgy abundantly laced with Scripture. Yet somehow I reached adulthood with a master’s degree in English literature and barely a grade-schooler’s knowledge of the greatest book of all.

What compelled me to start reading the Bible in earnest? Partly I wanted to be able to recognize biblical allusions in literature. Partly I was tired of knowing less about the Bible than some atheists and agnostics I knew. But mostly I was motivated by something my pastor had said one Sunday morning. Someone had asked him how we can recognize God’s voice. “Get to know his word,” was his answer. “Read the Bible all the way through. Then read it all the way through again. And again. Soon you’ll know his voice.”

So on January 1, 2002, I started reading, and sometime in the last week of December 2002, I finished the 31,173rd verse. I’m pretty sure it was the only New Year’s resolution I’d ever kept.

When I began, I assumed that reading through the Bible would make me biblically literate, and that I would then be done, mission accomplished. But late in December I came to what struck me as Jesus’ most astonishing identity claim — “I am the Root and the Offspring of David” — and it was then that I began to truly understand who Jesus was, to understand what he had meant when he said, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” Suddenly it all made sense. Jesus was not just the condemned Christ who walked to Golgotha carrying his own cross. He was not just the risen Lord who walked to Emmaus with the two grieving disciples. He was, and is, the creator God who walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. He was, and is, the “one like the son of man” who walked in the blazing furnace with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He was, and is, the “mighty God, the everlasting Father.” Though I’d long believed on some level that Jesus was God, I didn’t really “get it” until then.

I wasn’t done; I was undone. And I couldn’t wait to start reading through the Bible again.

I am now reading it for the sixth time. Each time I read it, I am undone again, because each time God speaks to me in new ways. One instance stands out above all the others. In December 2003, my husband died of a brain tumor, leaving me alone with two adolescent sons. As he was dying, God reminded me of the promise I had read in Psalm 68:5: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” Now, more than three years and nearly 150,000 verses later, I could write a book about the truth of that one promise. God’s faithfulness takes my breath away.

What have I learned from reading the Bible? I’ve learned the critical importance of obeying God: Beginning in Genesis 3, when God banishes Adam and Eve from the garden lest they eat of the tree of life, and ending in Revelation 22, when God promises to the obedient full access to the tree of life, the Bible tells of the price we pay for our disobedience and the blessings we reap for our obedience. Why? Because our God is a God of justice and mercy. I’ve learned that the Bible is a powerful weapon, “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow.” And I’ve learned that, from beginning to end, the Bible reveals the faithfulness of God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — in working out for us his grand plan of reconciliation, which he conceived before the world began.

Why read the Bible? Because you will come to know God’s voice, and when you know his voice, you will be able to follow him wherever he leads you: “He calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

Kathy Henning is a communications specialist in Seattle Pacific’s Office of University Communications. She says her quest for biblical literacy, coupled with her many years of writing and marketing in secular workplaces, prepared her for a job that has become a calling: “communicating SPU’s vision for engaging the culture and changing the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Henning’s older son is now a freshman at Seattle Pacific.

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