It’s a Sunday night, and I’m watching All Creatures Great and Small, the British TV drama on PBS from Masterpiece Theatre. So, I have a request. “Please don’t bother me,” I ask my husband. “Just allow me one hour of pleasant TV-watching without disruption.” Then like a good-guy husband, he says yes — even watching with me.
We love the program because it takes us away from everyday life. Set in a fictional town in Britain’s beautiful Yorkshire Dales, it tells the adventures of a country veterinarian, James Herriot, as he cares for animals — and placates their owners – while falling in love with the pretty daughter of a country farmer.
Sounds wonderful? It is.
Or, it was.
After the seven-week drama ended its first season, the internet unleashed scores of articles on “the real story” behind Herriot’s adventures. In fact, James Herriot isn’t a real person but the pen name of Alf Wight — a rural vet whose books were semi-autobiographical, meaning his stories were embellished.
Indeed, his life wasn’t all sweet and light. Wight suffered from bouts of clinical depression, according to his now adult children. His TV love Helen was actually named Joan — not a farmer’s daughter but a secretary at a corn mill. His irascible but lovable mentor, known in the series as Siegfried Farnon, was Donald Sinclair, who, by several accounts, hated his depiction in the Herriot books and TV adaptations.
Thus, while the life lessons in All Creatures were sound, beautiful, and good, they skipped over the hardest moments of the real backstory.
I’ve reflected on these things as I’ve watched our struggles as a nation and even in our community here at (in)courage over the past year. As contributors have shared our plights, and readers have replied, some have pushed back, saying, Enough. Stop this nonsense. Just give us the Bible, not the roar.
That was my approach to the Bible for many years. I wanted the Bible without the human backstory. The throbbing conflicts. The bloody persecutions. The divided churches. The family quarrels. To be honest, I wanted Christ without His suffering, His people without their pain.
Instead, I wanted the pretty parts — to know, as Paul wrote, that I can do all things in the power of the Lord. But did I want His Cross? Or all the hurting people gathering underneath it? Or those pesky reminders that Paul wrote of unity in Christ — not because it was happening but because it still wasn’t?
Like many here, I grew up on Bible lore and lessons — loving it all because I loved the takeaways. But I liked the condensed version, short enough to put on a t-shirt or a flowery plaque to hang on a wall.
That thinking is understandable. Life can be hard, scary, or traumatic at its worst. Just watching the news teaches us that.
So, we crave Bible hope and help. We all understand that. But do we want a bite-sized Bible? Just enough to carry us through the day without thinking too hard about what it cost the people who actually wrote it? Not to mention what it cost our Christ? Or costs the people whose hurt we don’t want to hear?
Frederick Douglass, the social reformer, understood this hunger for light without fire, for action without agitation. Those are folks who “want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”
After God releases us from problems and our pandemic, some of us might only want quiet from our Bibles — the sweet not the struggle. (And of course, some might want the roar, too.) So, we’re at a crossroads.
We can run from the Bible, with both its whispers and roar, or we can stand in God’s story in the storms of life, learning to hear all of it, even when we just want quiet and rest. That respite is in there, for certain. But God invites us into His whole story, preparing us to hear each other’s — not just the bite-sized, easy-to-swallow versions but His whole story and our own, even when we may disagree.
Then after we plow, after the thunder and lightning, after the roar of the waves, may we experience the harvest, the life-giving rain, and the ocean in all its beauty and wonder. May the complexities of learning from every part of the Bible — and through the stories shared here — ignite our hearts to surrender. Then, we can love.Leave a Comment