The Bible and the BIG picture
Last week I attended a presentation in which the teacher tried to go through the entire bible in 90 minutes. He didn’t make it. His aim was to give a broad view of scripture, understanding it as a whole book rather than just the bits and pieces. He wanted to communicate it as a story of God’s activity and people’s understanding of that activity; and that, consequently, it was our story as well. Finally, he sought to reveal and explain some significant overarching themes that ran through the entirety of scripture. In my estimation he did an excellent job, just not in 90 minutes. I have led a similar study multiple times in my almost 40 years of ministry but always in terms of months rather than minutes. His presentation was a one off, knowing that more might come to a 90-minute event rather than stick with something for months. With the size of the crowd, he was likely right.
Part of the reason he did not meet his goal of 90 minutes was due to the fact that he spent time explaining why he was doing what he was doing, why this mattered so much to him. First, he shared, he had a great love for the word of God. Secondly, he deeply believed that the word of God is powerful and transformative. And, thirdly, he believed that the Bible is one of the most misunderstood, abused and misused books ever and that, frankly, it is just daunting to many people. I couldn’t agree more. I wish people would grow in their love for the word. I pray for that. But I also wish, and pray, that people had a real grasp of the big picture for, I believe, it is only then that it becomes transformative and powerful and can deepen one’s communion with the Lord. So, I want to give you three things that I think are essential as you approach the Bible.
It was not written to you. (Our presenter actually made this point in a significant way which I really appreciated.) The bible was written in a particular time and often to an “us” (a people) rather than a “me.”(A specific individual) Though there are a few examples of the latter, the truth still remains that you are not that person. To take the bible, or more accurately, to take a verse or two, and think that it is just for you, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The easiest example of this is a New Testament letter to the church at…. Why didn’t the Spirit of God have the writers write one generic letter that was applicable to all churches and one letter that was applicable to every single individual? At the very least one needs to understand it in the sense of relationships and society.
Closely behind this is to understand that all scripture has a context. Imagine taking a letter that you wrote to a friend and having someone take out an arbitrary line. You would most likely say, “Wait, that is not what I meant.” To which they could say, “But that is what you wrote.” That would be true but not likely accurate. A verse is always in a context of a larger paragraph, which sits in the context of the whole letter or book, which sits in a time and place and, ultimately sits in the bible as a whole. Ignoring the context is simply not prudent.
Finally, and for me, most importantly, the word of God is not the same as the Word of God. In Hebrews 1.1 we read:” In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways.” This is significant because it first communicates that God is a God who speaks and, second, that he has spoken often through a variety of people. Verse two begins with the word “BUT…” That is telling. It communicates something different or a change. “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” Which leads us to verse 3: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” And that is the big change. If Jesus, himself, is the exact representation of God then I need to look at Jesus’s life, his teachings, his work and then read the word of God through that lens and ask, is this consistent with Jesus?
Now it is likely that some readers might say, “Wait a minute…” I understand that and would invite you to conversation rather than just written words. And this, for me, reinforces my point. Writing something is different than reading something. And reading something is very different than communicating with someone. And communicating is radically different than gaining an insight, fun fact or opinion. We were all created to live in relationship with God, the world, and one another and that, my friends, is God’s story.