Is it our salvation, a love letter, a rulebook, a guide, an instruction manual, a weapon, or just stories made up long ago? Is it true, inspired, outdated, or myth? Is it directly from or dictated by God, or only some of it, or none of it. Does it point to God, or do only parts of it.
Is it some problem to be solved, or does it solve our problems, like a formula to a mathematical equation. Is it a mystery to be deciphered, like a detective on a case. Does it need us, or do we need it. Or do we need it at all.
Is it the answer to every question, or does it produce more questions than answers. Does it speak to every person, life, and context, to every choice, direction, and outcome, or is the blank white space there for a reason. Can we read between the lines and fill them in with our own experience while imaging a continual trajectory, or is this heresy?
I like what I read in a book once. Like Jesus, the bible is both human and divine.
Some say its words are the only knowledge of God, the only way to know him. Others say it’s only one brushstroke of a fuller, more mysterious image. Some lovingly commune with God through its words, while for others they resurrect painful memories and experiences. Then there are those who use the words as swords against their enemies, and even against their loved ones.
Is it a textbook of theology and science and history; or wisdom literature with narrative, poetry, and life principles; is the content universal or particular, comprehensive or contextual? Or is it all, or none, of the above?
Is it a book to live by, or one to throw away. Or is the problem that we read it as one book when it’s not, instead an anthology of many books with various authors, literary styles, and historical contexts, written over thousands of years. Every writer is trying to say something slightly (or vastly) different, to a slightly (or vastly) different audience, for a slightly (or vastly) different reason. Maybe the contents are various streams that flow into different rivers, all of which eventually flow into the same ocean.
These scriptures are not God; nor is God the scriptures. They’re messy and confusing, at times contradictory and conflicting. They’re unfiltered, filled with episodes of violence, murder, genocide, slavery, and injustice; there are scenes of polygamy, incest, rape, and oppression. Animals, even humans, are sacrificed, unto God. Bloodshed is committed, unto God. Sinners are punished, unto God. In some passages God hardly seems to care about any of it. But in others, he certainly does. It’s complicated. Which sections are right, which parts are true, what is required of us and what is not applicable? And most significantly, out of all the “Gods” we see, which God is ours?
You see, everyone picks and chooses from the text—no matter how conservative, fundamentalist, or exclusive, no matter how progressive, liberal, or inclusive. If so, what we pick and choose—or, which God we do—is of great significance.
The integrity of The Holy Bible isn’t about the bible. Its value, meaning, and application is rooted in so much more than its words. Mainly, what we believe about God, who we think God is, really. For some, the scriptures are the entrance into a relationship with the living God; for others, the exit. Either way, they can’t be the end. Whether the words introduce us to a loving God or push us away from an unloving one, they also initiate a lifelong wrestling match with the divine. The same scriptures that introduce many to a loving God may sadly introduce others to a very different one. Perhaps unloving, unkind, and unmerciful; or distant, indifferent, and weak; or vengeful, violent, and tribal; or white, American, and political; or an old man in the sky with a white beard, a genie with a magic wand, or everything (meaning nothing in particular).
If Jesus is the one we follow as the ultimate and final expression of God, then the bible is subservient to him. If Jesus is who Christians claim, then we read the scriptures through the lens of his life—meaning, his love.
It’s like something else I once read in a book. The Bible is read through the lens of Jesus, God’s final word. “…The words on the page of the Bible don’t drive the story, Jesus does. Jesus is bigger than the Bible…The question is not, ‘Who gets the Bible right?’ The question is and always has been, ‘Who gets Jesus right?’”
If you’re wanting to read a book about the bible by an author who actually knows what they’re talking about, here are a few I’ve found helpful:
– “The Bible Tells Me So” and “How the Bible Actually Works” by Peter Enns
– “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans
– “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell
– “A Walk through the Bible” by Leslie Newbigin
– “Irresistible” by Andy Stanley
– “How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth” by Gordon Free & Douglas Stuart
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