When I was in bible college I had a paperback bible, the cheap sort they give away in church seat-backs, the sort zealots cover with stickers identifying who they are apart from the words inside the book. My stickers were hiking destinations, a round REI one, a Life is Good stick figure standing on the side of a mountain.
The truth was my bible was falling apart and the stickers were holding it together. The spine was all but gone and the pages were falling out in chunks, particularly in the New Testament. One of my professors took one look at it and quipped, “A Bible that’s falling apart is a sign of a person who’s not.”
I swallowed the line that day.
I may have been in bible college but I was not a Christian. Not in the sense that I understood the Gospel was not self-help rhetoric, but a life-changing, redemptive way—the only way. This was before my brother died, before a group from the Bible college traveled 14 hours to my home for a funeral, and shared the gospel with me over broken bread and broken bodies on the eve of Easter. I had that bible with me that night, clutched it in hope there was hope out of this nightmare.
The church I found shortly after that Easter used the NASB translation and a teacher/professor/mentor there gifted me with my own leather-bound bible a few weeks before my 21st birthday.
But I never forgot what the first professor said about a bible that was falling apart.
And years later when my NASB was frayed and torn and falling apart and my life was too, I wanted to shake my fist at everything I thought to be true about faith, which was this: the harder you try, the better it will go for you.
It is ironic, then, that the person who gifted me with my current bible, a simple black leather-bound, was someone who had left the faith in a way. He’d wandered across the world and the United States for years, landing in our small college town for a few months, becoming my friend. We would talk for hours about faith and argue and he would frustrate me and I wanted to shake him so hard sometimes because it didn’t even seem like he was trying.
It took someone who was falling apart to show me a bible that is falling apart is not the sign of someone who isn’t. A bible that is falling apart might actually be a sign of someone who is trying to hold their world together.
I left my NASB back in New York when I moved here, in a trunk in a dusty attic, not forgotten, but not necessary to prove my worth anymore. I need it, though, for a class I’ll be beginning soon and so my brother dug it out and is mailing it to me this week. He texted me a photo just to make sure it’s the right one.
Holy. I said. Yes, it’s the right one.
Holy is right, he said back.
Here is what I know about holiness: sometimes we bring rags before the King of Kings, rags because we have been torn and ravaged by life. And sometimes we bring rags before the King of Kings, rags because we have torn our own clothes, we have beaten our chests with candoitiveness and fortitude. We have shouted our worth and proved it by our piety. But in the end, it’s rags we all bring before Him, falling apart lives, brokenness, emptiness, nothingness, and He breaks in, shouts our worth, and covers us with the finest robes, the signet ring.
And sometimes He does it in unlikely ways, through unlikely people, through people who are falling apart and a bible that isn’t.