by Ray Tetz 

The first Bible I remember belonging to me personally was not too big, but certainly not small—regular “book size.” Its cover was blue leatherette and zippered with a little cross on the zipper pull, so you always knew if your Bible was open or closed. There were rules for this Bible. It was important, for instance, to keep it zippered shut when you weren’t reading it. And also to make sure there was never anything stacked on top of it. Never. Anything. Ever.

I’m sure the words“Holy Bible” were etched on the cover,which also featured a picture of two people shaking hands with the additional words, “Friendship Edition.” The hands pictured were clearly adult, signifying that this was a grown-up Bible, not like the big print, picture-intensive Bibles that little kids carried. This was my grown-up Bible.

There was something in the back called a “concordance” for looking up texts. Everybody seemed to think that I should already know what a concordance was, but I sure didn’t. No one ever used that word except when describing a Bible. It turns out it was a way to look up stuff without having to remember it. Adults loved the concordance and us kids did too, because it meant that if church got boring we could search for funny texts that might use the word “ass” or something equally amusing. The trouble with the concordance was that it was hard to use; you had to flip back and forth and keep your finger between the pages in the back where the lists were. It could be exhausting,so it was only “fun” if the sermon happened to be reallydull.

In the middle of the Bible, probablybetween the Old Testament and the New Testament, there were two special pages about The Wages Of Sin. Onone page in big red letters it read, “Though your sins be as scarlet.” Compared to the small print in the Bible itself, those letters were huge—and a powerful indication of how big your sins were. And they were red.

The really huge sins were things like lying to your parents, coveting a friend’s toy, breaking the Holy Sabbath Day (which was just about impossible not to do), taking the Lord’s name in vain (which included using words like“darn” or “gosh”), and, of course, committing “adultery,” which I didn’t understand but knew was something similar to but a lot worse than looking up the word “ass” in the concordance. It was definitely something you didn’t want to get caught doing.

So on this one page were these big red letters that said, “Though your sins be as scarlet.” And the cool thing about my Bible was that next to this page there was another page made of red cellophane. I could cover the Sins as Scarlet page with the red cellophane—and the words would disappear, replaced by the words “They shall be as white as snow.” That cellophane page was like the blood of Jesus. And it was very cool; one could spend hours flipping the page back and forth making sins appear and disappear.

Of course, if you weren’t careful you might accidentally rip the cellophane—which might be a sin of its own, like tearing the blood of Jesus. You wouldn’t want to do that, for sure. Your mom would need to put tape on the page that was supposed to be the blood of Jesus, which would not be cool, and you’d have to live with the results of your sin forever and be reminded of it every time you turned to those pages.

You could also slide other stuff under the cellophane—your own fingers or thelittle red-colored box of Sen-Sen breath mintsthat you borrowed from your dad because he always carried one in his pocket when he went to church. The words “Sen-Sen” (not quite sin-sin) wouldn’t actually disappearbut they got darker and harder to see.

But mostly you could just sit there and think about your sins being white as snow, magically disappearing beneath the blood of Jesus even if you’d been looking up stuff you shouldn’t have, and thinking about things like bearing false witness, and forgetting to remember the Holy Sabbath Day.

Psalm 32:1 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (NIV).

That would be me, from a very early age, sitting in church, thinking about my many sins, casually flipping the blood of Jesus back and forth and watching them disappear and reappear—Sen-Sen on my breath and being covered in forgiveness on my mind.

Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.