Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me . . . so that you may live (Isaiah 55:1-3, RSV Catholic Edition).
Some forty years ago, I was stationed with the US Navy in Yokosuka, Japan and had just become a Christian. The people who influenced my early days as a new believer encouraged me to read the Bible because, they said, God speaks to us through its pages. And so I began reading. In those days I was completely ignorant of its content. I didn’t know Hezekiah from Timothy, Caleb from Philemon, 1 Chronicles from 1 Corinthians. But I took their advice and I read. Voraciously, I read.
And I was astounded by the things I was learning.
Another sailor from my unit lived a few doors down the hall from my barracks room. A confirmed atheist, he made no effort to hide his disgust for the Bible I was growing to love. At every opportunity he challenged my new faith, while I, undaunted, tried to persuade him to my side of the theological divide.
One afternoon as I walked by his room I noticed his door open. And there he sat at his desk, a Bible open before him, as he scribbled in a note book. I thought, maybe he’s beginning to search for God.
I knocked on the open door and smiled. “I see you’re studying the Bible.”
He turned in his chair to face me. “Yeah. I’m studying it so I can prove it wrong.”
How silly of him. The Bible he was trying to disprove has sent some of the greatest scientific and philosophical minds in history to their knees in worship of the God of that Bible: Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo, St. Jerome, Justin Martyr, Sir Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Rene Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Sir Isaac Newton, CK Chesterton, CS Lewis, William Buckley . . . .
The Bible he was trying to disprove has survived the contemptuous scorn and calumny of such world-renowned anti-God philosophers as Voltaire, Jean-Paul Sarte, and Friedrich Nietzsche. It has withstood the onslaught of the world’s worst political despots from Nero to Hitler to Stalin to Mao Zedong. And it remains an unshakeable mountain of granite while the bones of scientific geniuses as atheists J. Robert Oppenheimer, Carl Sagan, Ivan Pavlov and Linus Pauling are slowly turning to dust.
During the past two thousand years the Bible has been burned, denounced, spat upon, ripped apart, and covered with the blood of men and women who clutched it to their breasts as they died by sword, axes, clubs, and bullets.
I have learned over the last forty years many great truths from that book, one of which is this: Sin will keep you from the Bible, or the Bible will keep you from sin.
I am now nearly 63 years old. The last 40 years have passed in what seems like just a few weeks. Only God – and perhaps my wife of 38 years – only they know how often during the last four decades of my life the Bible has given me comfort in my deepest despair, hope when I had none left, direction when I was desperately lost, light when I wandered in total darkness, courage when all of my courage had failed.
And in this I am not alone. For literally millennia the Scriptures have been meeting the most desolate needs and restless longing of men and women who are honest enough with themselves to admit to themselves one crucial truth:
They need God.