"So what does this prove?"

Someone asked this well-intentioned question about New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary's ongoing excavation in Israel of the Gezer water system after I posted an article about it two years ago. The truth is, our major find that season did not "prove" anything in the Bible.

Archaeology has done much to shed light on the Bible and sometimes archaeologists uncover evidence that affirms key aspects of the biblical story. The Dead Sea Scrolls provided very early copies of most Old Testament books and gave further evidence to the reliability of Scripture. King David has been attested through inscriptions. And the unearthed ruins of biblical cities illustrate how well biblical writers understood the geography of the land. But more often than not, the finds at sites in Israel are more mundane in nature, primarily dealing with daily life of ancient peoples.

This leads some to ask why biblical archaeology is important to Christians. For me, an archaeologist-in-training with only four digs under his belt, the answer is context and a love for Scripture. I think the same can be said for travel in the Bible lands.

Archaeology and Bible lands travel create a framework for more informed, thoughtful study of the Bible. For me, there are great reasons for evangelical Christians to keep digging.

As a child attending First Baptist Church in Calvin, Okla., my image of the Holy Land looked like eastern Oklahoma, filled with rolling hills and oak trees. As I read the Bible, I pictured what was familiar to me. The Jordan River looked like the South Canadian River. I imagined David picking up smooth stones from a brook similar to Sandy Creek near my home. Later, as I saw photographs of biblical places and terrain, my contextual understanding grew.

Then in 2005, I took my first trip to Israel.

I expected the trip to be a spiritual mountaintop experience and it was in some ways. But, as I visited the places where Jesus walked, the Old Testament cities and Jerusalem, it was the lay of the land and the ruins that made an impression on me. It was real to me in a new way. Travel like this creates a framework for study of the Bible. Archaeology exposes ancient ruins and provides clues to the way people lived so we can better understand the cultures and people mentioned in the text.

Gaining a contextual framework for Bible study through archaeology and travel has given me a greater love for the Bible. Armed with a better mental picture of the biblical world, the pages of the Bible spring to life as I read. The message is the same -- it is God's true Word -- but I am able to approach this message with a fresh attitude.

Context also helps us bridge the gap between our modern times and the times of Abraham, Moses, David and Jesus.

We cannot deny the significance of the gap between us and the days when Abraham (called Abram at the time) decided to reject the idols of his family and follow the one true God. However, we often read his story and other Old Testament accounts with 21st-century, post-resurrection eyes. The context gained from archaeology and travel helps us step through this fog of time.

It is not only time that creates a gap, it is also societal structure. With the rapid urbanization of the United States over the past decades, many Americans have little experience with the agrarian lifestyle we find in the pages of Scripture. I fancy myself as a person of the land. I grew up on a sheep farm and had daily agricultural chores as a child. And though I have lived the modern urban life for the past 17 years, I am still in touch with the land. This background has been valuable in my study of the Bible.

Archaeology also helps us understand the people of the Bible. My thoughts about the Canaanites grew this summer at Gezer as we uncovered a series of handholds on the walls of the water system -- an ancient "handrail" if you will. When I put my hands in these holds during our weeks at Gezer, I thought about the people who first used them and wondered about lives. Who were they? What were they like?

Designed and carved thousands of years ago -- maybe as early as 2000 B.C. -- the holds served the residents of Gezer for many years. Each day they placed their hands in these same holds as they walked up and down the steps of the water system. The Gezer water system gave me a glimpse into the lives of an ancient people. This massive rock-hewn water system shows the great lengths these people had to go to secure a daily water supply, walking the 80-something steps down to the pool with water vessels and toting out the water they needed.

Who knows how the people of Gezer felt about the water system. Maybe the Canaanites in the city held the system in some sort of reverence or dedicated it to some deity. Maybe they viewed it as a mundane part of their daily life the way we look at our morning commutes.

It is thoughts like these that motivate me as I seek to understand the people and places of biblical times. It is a quest for context and growing love for Bible study that keeps me digging.

When I first noticed the lights of a lone car in the distance, fear washed over me. Headlights pierced the darkness of the moonless night as the car topped a small hill nearly a quarter of mile away. I watched across the open field as the car bounced down the bumpy dirt road­ until it was out of view behind a grove of trees. I both hoped and feared that the car would turn down our driveway when it reappeared. I hoped for good news, but feared worst. Minutes dragged on as hope mingled with dread.

The day was Friday, March 16, 1984 and it was already past 10 p.m. It had been the longest day of my life. Dad should have been home hours earlier. We started to wonder what was taking him so long around 6:30. Something had to be wrong. We called his boss to see if he knew anything. He remembered that my Dad’s truck was still in the parking lot when he left and he promised to go back and check on him. We called our pastor and he quickly drove out to our house (17 miles from town). Meanwhile the hours ticked by and we prayed the most earnest and helpless prayers I have ever heard -- my Mom, Lanette (my sister, 16 at the time), me (14) and Bro. Buck.

A few minutes after the car disappeared behind the trees, I caught another glimpse of the lights as the car made the curve in the road. I could tell it was slowing to turn. I had never experienced such palpable fear. For a moment a silly thought popped into my head, “Maybe it’s Dad!” But deep down, I knew I wouldn’t see my Dad’s truck. Soon enough I could tell that it was a big car, a Lincoln or something like that. Two men stepped out – the top two men at my Dad’s plant. No words were needed at that point. I knew that my life had just changed.

At 39 years of age, one week shy of his 40th birthday, my Dad was gone. He had died in an accident at his plant. I ached to the core of my being. Tears flowed easily that night and for many, many more nights to come.

For the first few months, while the pain was the most intense, a theme kept reoccurring in my dreams . In the dreams, Dad always came home. It had all been a mistake. The dreams took on different forms, different ways of explaining why he didn’t come home, but the bottom line was that he was still alive in the dreams. But when I woke up, Dad was still gone. I continued to have those kind of dreams from time to time for at least seven years, maybe longer.

Our church family from First Baptist Church in Calvin gathered around us and help us immensely during this tough time. The love they showed was such a great testimony in our town. I will be forever grateful to this fine group of people, who are like family to me. As I tried to process and make sense of the senseless, God was more real to me that He had ever been before. The comfort and peace He gave pulled me through the worst of the pain and put me on a path the healing. And healing did come.

The sense of loss eased over time, but it never went away completely. I still feel the loss every time I talk to Kimberly and Jonathan about Dad. They never had the chance to know him. I like to tell  Jonathan, “My Dad was better than your dad.” He was a good man, a great husband and father and a friend to all he met.

A Song About Loss
The first time I heard “From Where You Are” by Lifehouse, I was swept back to the night Dad died. The song brought me to tears. The lyrics speak of a life cut short and the things you miss when someone you love is gone.

So far away from where you are
I'm standing underneath the stars
And I wish you were here

I miss the years that were erased
I miss the way the sunshine would light up your face
I miss all the little things
I never thought that they'd mean everything to me
Yeah I miss you
And I wish you were here

When it comes to Dad, “I miss all the little things.” Here’s a link to the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV-bw_Cljtk

His Laughter Faded Away
Something terrible happens when you lose someone you love, no matter how close you were, no matter how much you loved them, over time some memories of them fade. For years I could close my eyes and remember my Dad’s voice and his laugh. He loved to joke around and have fun. Dad had a great laugh to accompany his easy smile. Slowly memories of the sound of his voice and laughter slipped away. Today we have audio and video recordings to remember people, unfortunately, I don't have any recordings to help me remember.

Grateful
Losing my Dad 30 years ago was a defining moment in my life – it played a key role in who I am today, shaping me in good ways and bad ways. I leaned on my relationship with Jesus Christ for strength and He taught me much. The most important thing I learned is that He wants the best for me and that is enough. I don’t have to “make sense” of the senseless. I don’t have to understand how God can redeem such a loss, I just need to trust Him. Now I hold on to the memories of happy times and close relationship I shared with Dad. Every time I think of Dad, I’m grateful. He truly was a great person. I thank God that I had him in my life for 14 years.


Editorial Note: Thanks for reading my most personal blog post to date. The nagging sense of loss has kept me from writing about this event until. But, I am a writer and I needed to write about it someday. That someday finally came.