Roundtable: Our Favourite Books of the Bible

In this series, we ask each of our editors to look more carefully at the Bible and offer up their favourite book, extracting what it is about that particular book that makes it so real in their own lives. At the end of the series we will then recount what we have found out and offer up the floor for you to get involved and tell us which book really inspires you.

Harry Hughes - Gospel of John 

In the Good Book, there are many good and timely tales, and much nourishment for any soul. We find the stories of King David’s passion, and Daniel, with his excellent spirit, and Prince Joseph - who through much travail conquered empires, and even more importantly for themselves, their own maddening sense of failure. There are many who routed armies, that were saved from numerous temptations, and some, though few, that met with the Lord himself in the regions beside Gethsemane. After that, nothing was the same again. 

The gospels are beautifully rendered plots of ordinary, even simple-hearted men, coming to know the man Jesus

And so I look to the New Testament for scriptures that I love most, for it is here that Jesus finally appeared to men and women like you and me. It was in those 33 years that the creator of the known universe came to live and dwell among man. That his time was recorded in these journals, and has been preserved in intelligible verse, is in itself amazing. 

The gospels are beautifully rendered plots of ordinary, even simple-hearted men, coming to know the man Jesus - a man remarkable for his humility and power of speech – remarkable for the stories he told in large crowds and in quiet intimate moments of incredible vulnerability, his story almost ending on a cross, before, somehow, someway, at least in human terms, ending with the question – “Simon son of John, do you love me?”.

The Gospel of John then! That would be the first book I would read to my son, if I had one. 

The poetic temperament of the disciple is found in many of his figures of speech, and his knowledge of the prophets adds a lot of weight to the story as it unfolds. Having been with Jesus, his story is more dramatic, more believable and visceral. On recounting how Jesus died on the cross, he writes how they left the body alone, not wishing to break the legs of a man already dead, and that blood and water flowed from his side. He then verifies this, as if to doubters who would one day bring into contention that the living Lord ever died on that tree: “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe” (see the power of his diction). He continues: “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” 

Such testimony demands incredible foresight and care, and this spirit of love for his friend and master is felt right through the text. 

Philosophers, especially from the existentialist school, have spoken of scripture and the almighty amount of ordinary truths found in its pages. Of wisdom that you don’t find anywhere else – a profound, no nonsense, sharply-edged series of pages without any of the babble that some other books are steeped in. You can hear in the words that fatherly, humble, articulate and inescapable realism that somehow becomes more beautiful the more you read it. It doesn’t dart away and leave you sullen like the romantics do; it doesn’t become too sentimental like trivial literature, or pretentious like austere almanacs of the middle ages. Humour is found within it, but it doesn’t make prideful boasts of itself. And like any profound journal, it notes passages that stay a long time in the mind's eye – for truth is always memorable, since it is always verified by life experience. 

As you get on the bus, walk in the park, take that hiking trip through Canada, the words of the gospel become more real. And nowhere is this so marked as in John. Through dialogue, pictures are painted as brilliant as a Michelangelo, for they bring the temporal and the infinite together. For instance, having met a woman by a well, Jesus asks her for water. She questions him, wondering at his words when he tells her that he has ‘living water’ for her to drink: 

“You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 

The power of these words, and many others in John, have become imbedded into my psyche, hidden in the deep places of my subconscious. Though often, like some others, recollection is poor for most dramatic and literary art, I relive these words and find that their wisdom and truth has foundation. They do not shift with the winds as do so many other professed truths. They do not lead to false doors, nor give up when suffering comes.

And the power of Jesus’ character is also apparent in the smaller things that John says he does and says - the details, if you will that are added to posterity for all of us that struggle when pushed beyond our limits. Having been brought in front of the High Priest, about to be tried for treason, and knowing that his best friend Peter was just then in the process of denying that he even knew him, the passions of any ordinary man would be at their peak. But Jesus can be seen speaking confidently, calmly, rationally, with authority – defining what it means to be cool in a situation that demands one to stay cool: 

““Meanwhile, the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching.

“I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.””

And since we are talking about ‘cool’ in a world that is obsessed with the word and what it means, let me finally draw the reader's attention to that opening miracle in John, the one where Jesus’ mother comes to him and tells him that they have no wine left at the wedding to which they have been invited. Later in the passage it says:

“…and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

The way in which John describes the scene, at least to me, professes his love for the master. Jesus was discrete in his actions, performing behind the scenes, making beautiful things happen when people least expected it, in ways that completely revolutionised the natural order. Yes – Jesus can easily be seen to be winsome and cool, letting others shine, but equally, when the time demanded it, he stepped up and was murdered for a ministry that made him equal to God. It is that tale that is so beautifully told in John, so much so that it is the perfect backing track for the whole Bible. In it is verse that will completely change the way you live your life – at least if, as it says somewhere else in James, you be doers of that word, and not just hearers. 

Stay tuned for the next choice from the digital team

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