If you guessed that the image on the bottom right is not like the others, you’re right!
Unfortunately, sometimes it can be a bit easier to see this in a silly grid like above than in the reality of day-to-day life.
I’ve been thinking lately about how we read the Bible and how we think about it. One thing I appreciate about evangelical biblical scholarship is that there is a very high value placed on the Word of God as being the highest authority on life, the ultimate source of truth, the unmoving standard of morality, and the book with the only real answers to the questions and longings of the human heart. This is all true and good, and I’m grateful for it.
However, being the good Westerners that we are, it’s easy for our hearts and minds to go weird places concerning this book of ultimate truth. The problem creeps in when we start reading the Bible as a handy-dandy reference guide to doing life “right” — in which case we suddenly struggle with sorting out how it’s really so much unlike all those other things.
While we can say and gladly affirm that the Bible is written for anyone to understand, and that it is the highest authority on our faith, it is not “The Idiot’s Guide to Spirituality”. While we can easily see and learn from the many principles it sets out concerning morality, it is not “1001 Steps to Living Like a Holy Person”. While it is bursting with accurate prophecy, it is not “The Insider’s Guide to Predicting the Future (Now with a Money-Back Guarantee!)”. While it is rich with wisdom of how to navigate the ups and downs and general confusion of human existence, it is not “How to Succeed at Life”.
In other words, the Bible is not reference material. And far too often, I think we tend to treat it that way.
If we have a theological point to prove, we dig through the Word to find it, buttress our argument, and prove the other guy wrong. If we have a personal crisis, we plug in a word search and look for something that will put our heart at ease. If we have a moral quandary, we look for the scriptural rule that answers it; if we find it, we grit our teeth and (try to) do the good Christian thing, and if we don’t find it, we sink into miserable confusion and wish that the Good Lord would have been a bit more specific with that Sermon on the Mount stuff.
It affects how we sit down and read it, too. We want the “practical” stuff. We want the “meat”. So we’ll start reading, “Paul, an apostle from… yeah, yeah, blah blah blah… predestined us… seated at the right hand… yeah, yeah, I know… manifold wisdom of God… Aha! ‘Put away lying’. Now there’s something I can work with!” And in the meantime, we’ve skimmed through four chapters, glassy-eyed, because we fail to see how this means anything for me and for my life, right now.
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He had a troubling insight into the lives of the religious leaders of His day. “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life…” (John 5:19). That statement by itself is confusing, and even offensive to the religious mind. I mean, you think you have eternal life? This is the Word of God, after all. This is what should dictate how we live, speak, and think. This is the highest authority of our faith and the ultimate record of truth. Jesus, are you really saying that searching the Scriptures isn’t enough?
Take away the conviction that He’s God in the flesh, and it’s not so hard to imagine why the Jewish leaders were angry with Him. The nerve! To say that the Word of God isn’t enough! What could possibly be lacking?
Jesus’ conclusion tells us how they — and we — were missing the boat. “…and these [Scriptures] are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39b-40).
The Bible is not a reference work, a cheat sheet, or an instruction manual (not even basic instructions before leaving earth). It’s not a to-do list from a God who knew we’d need it spelled out in black and white, or else we’d mess it all up.
When it’s all said and done, it’s about a Man — a Man who is God. It’s about a Triune Godhead who has longed to shed His love abroad in human hearts since eternity past. It’s about the relentless pursuit of a tender, jealous, fiery Bridegroom who is willing to spill His own blood to redeem broken, sinful people who hated Him. It’s about the coming King who will set all wrong things right in His glory and majesty.
It shows us the ever-unfolding story of a God who loves us and wants relationship with us.
He doesn’t want to be the help desk; He wants to be a friend to us, and He wants us to be friends to Him. He doesn’t want to make sure we can pass a quiz; He wants us to be fascinated with His beautiful name and nature. He doesn’t want us to be rule-keeping zealots; He wants us to be holy as He is holy so that we may walk together in agreement and fellowship.
The Bible is not for ordering our lives and finding the answer to life’s questions. It’s for the transformation of our hearts as we see what our God is like, and maybe even find out we were asking the wrong questions in the first place. Now reading the Bible is not a chore. It’s not like panning for gold, sifting through trays full of silt to find the little specks of “gold” that are relevant to us. It’s more like a banqueting table, with an overwhelming and unending array of opportunities to feast our hearts on the glory of Jesus and discover who we really are in Him.
If we don’t just search the Scriptures for the sake of saying that we did, but rather come to the One who gives us life, it changes everything. The Word will not unduly burden us, but provoke us to pray and talk to this amazing God of whom we read. It will not seem like disjointed and dry factoids that teach us how to live, but living, active truth that renews us from the inside out. It becomes not our duty, but our privilege and joy, to give ourselves to long and loving meditation. It is not a guide to life, but spirit and life (John 6:63). We love Jesus more. We talk to the Holy Spirit more. We are more secure in the Father’s love. We love holiness more and hate sin more. And we actually know the Bible better.
May we never lose sight of what this Word is. May the Lord release wisdom and revelation on our hearts, that we will behold Him who gives us life and who is the Life.