Atonement or Ointment?

“What’s atonement, Daddy?” my 6-year-old asked this morning after he finished reading Proverbs 27:9.

“Atonement?” I said. “What are you looking at?”

He pointed at the first word in the verse.

“That’s ointment,” I said as Pauletta and I chuckled.

“What’s ointment?” he asked.

“Well, it’s like perfume or cologne – something that smells nice and is pleasant,” I answered. “The verse is saying that having a close friend, someone who will open his heart to you and tell you what he really thinks is sweet and pleasant like perfume.”

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This kind of interaction happens nearly every day in our house, especially over this past year, and I fully expect it to continue throughout 2018. You see, since January 1, 2017, we have been reading the Bible together as a family every morning following the scheduled readings on our monthly church calendar. So far we have read from Genesis 1 all the way through Isaiah 57, including reading the entire book of Psalms twice and we’re almost finished with our second reading of Proverbs. Nearly every morning after breakfast, or sometimes while some of us are still eating, we open our Bibles, divide up that day’s portion and take turns reading God’s word. When we began last year our youngest children were 5 and 7, and they both struggled to sound out many of the words in the text, so we limited their reading to the Psalms which seemed easier since they include a lot of repetition. After a year of reading, however, they are both much more confident in sounding out new words and in remembering ones they have already seen, so they sometimes take turns reading from the other OT books along with their older brother and sister. It usually takes us about 30 minutes a day to read together, but that often includes questions like the one we heard today along with a brief explanation, and then we conclude with prayer or a song.

There have been a few days that we missed over the course of the year, but we have been able to make them up as we went along, especially since our plan includes 2 catch-up days at the end of every book. When we are traveling we listen to an audio Bible in the car, and when we have guests we invite them to join us – including an exchange student from Germany who lived with us for 3 months this past fall. Even grandma and grandpa got to read with us when they came to visit and over the Christmas holiday when we stayed at their house. With a little bit of determination and effort we will finish the entire Bible by the end of 2018.

How much of it can be understood by a 6-year-old? That’s a really good question, and the answer is, “I don’t know.” One thing that I have discovered after reading through the Bible multiple times is that I cannot sound its depths or exhaust its wisdom, so I am confident that if my children do not get everything that they read this time, they will certainly be able to return to God’s word a second time and get more. In fact, we aren’t really reading it with the intention of sucking every bit of marrow from the bones. That kind of reading and study would take much more time and intensity than most 6-year-olds can muster – or most 60-year-olds, if we’re honest – and it’s just not the approach that we are taking. Our goals as we read God’s word are to see God as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures and to establish a habit of Bible reading that will serve our children well for the rest of their lives.

Now I’m not writing this post to boast that my 6-year-old is smarter than you but to encourage you to read God’s word for yourself. If a beginning reader who can’t tell the difference between atonement and ointment can read or listen to God’s word, then you and I can, too. Whether he understands everything or not isn’t really the point – he certainly understands more now than he did when we started, and he continues to ask questions that give us the chance to explain God’s word and sometimes to admit that we aren’t exactly sure what it means. Can you think of a better way to start your day in 2018? I can’t.

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