Most awkward pastoral moment: When I’m pressed to identify my favorite verse in the Bible
Sometimes it happens because a fifth-grader asks when I visit his Sunday School class. Sometimes it happens when I’m supposed to inscribe a gift Bible for one of our first-graders. Sometimes it happens in dialogue with a men’s Bible study. “Pastor, which is your favorite verse of the Bible?”
So, here’s the awkward truth I face in those moments: I don’t have one. Truly, I do not have a favorite Bible verse. I never have. It’s not that I came to the reasoned position that I shouldn’t have one; it’s just that I’ve never had one, and all that I offer here is baldfaced after-the-fact justification.
Should I Have a Least-Favorite Verse, Too?
You know, I’m not going to tell you who my favorite child is, either. It’s not that I never have one—each of them has their moments in the spotlight. It’s just that it would be wrong for me to identify one of my children as my favorite. To pick one as favorite is necessarily to relegate all of the others to secondary status. In the same way, even from my childhood, it has always felt wrong to me to try to pick out a favorite verse of the Bible.
I know that’s totally weird. My favorite people have favorite verses (see what I did there! 🙂 ), and your stature in my eyes is diminished not at all if you are a passionate favorite-verse-picker. But I can’t bring myself to demote the preponderance of the Bible beneath One Verse To Rule Them All. Too much of it means too much to me.
Am I the Bible’s Review Critic?
When I pick up my Bible, I’m not convinced that it is my task to evaluate it. Marvel in the grandeur of it? Yes. Delight in the teachings of it? Yes. But more importantly than all of those things, my task is to submit to God. It’s probably a lot more important that I seek to BE picked as one of God’s favorite followers than that I make myself the verse picker and the judge of which things God has said are better than those times when God presumably didn’t bring His A-game.
Maybe the least favorite verses are the most important ones. Maybe the ones that rub me the wrong way are the true test of my discipleship. Atheists can and do pick favorite verses from the Bible and are absolutely thrilled to live by them. They come to the Bible as critics, judging the Bible part-by-part to weed out the offense while retaining the highlights. My role ought to be different.
Are We Making Too Much of Verses?
As initially written, of course, the Bible didn’t have any versification at all. I worry that we’re a wee bit too adept at cutting the Bible down into soundbites (or, in this Internet age, sound-bytes). If you ask me what I love about Romans 5:1 (a perfectly acceptable question), you’re going to wind up hearing what I love about Romans. Romans the church has had since her infancy; “Romans 5:1” is a newcomer.
I want to help people love God’s word as a unit. To be fair, I think that probably starts with loving particular portions of it. But the Bible is the only book around that we try to introduce to people in disparate snippets. Perhaps, in this one way like a good novel, the Bible is best loved by those who just read it and who dare to fall in love with the whole because they have fallen in love with the Author.